American Martyrs, American Shame

A better America today was born out of their tragic deaths.

A better America today was born out of their tragic deaths.

1963 isn’t only the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  It is also the grim anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history when acts of domestic terrorism were so prevalent in Birmingham, Alabama it was nicknamed “Bombingham.”

In a rare show of bipartisan unanimity, Republican and Democratic leaders gathered to honor the four girls that were slain when a bomb exploded in a Birmingham church in 1963.  Their deaths were credited with providing the impetus that led to the 1964 and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

House and Senate leaders Tuesday formally awarded Congress’ highest civilian honor to the families of four girls killed in an Alabama church bombing nearly half a century ago that is now regarded as one of the most horrific acts of violence of the civil rights era.

The Congressional Gold Medal was posthumously presented in Washington on Tuesday to Addie Mae Collins, 14; Carole Robertson, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14; and Denise McNair, 11.

The ceremony was held five days ahead of the 50th anniversary of their tragic deaths inside the walls of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, honored the legacy of the four slain girls, who were preparing for Sunday worship when they died.

“There was no safety for those four little girls. Not even Sunday school,” Reid said. “But there really was salvation. Not only for the four young ladies, but for a nation.”

He added: “That outrage sparked by the deaths of these four innocents ignited the civil rights movement like nothing had up to that time.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that on the day of the bombing virtually every stained glass window in the church was blown out — except for one bearing the image of Christ leading a group of children, with his face missing.

“The symbolism was potent,” McConnell said.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, teared up near the end of his remarks when he said: “Once again, our children have led us to this simplest of notions: They bring us together.”

For one day Republicans and Democrats remember they are Americans first.

For one day Republicans and Democrats remember they are Americans first.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, addressing a statute of Rosa Parks, said: “We won’t disappoint you.”

Pelosi was alluding to the recent Supreme Court decision upending a key anti-discrimination provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which she had referenced earlier in her remarks.

The girls were killed when a bomb planted outside the church by white supremacists exploded. The brutal attack sent aftershocks across the nation and triggered violent clashes between police and protesters.

Today, the bombing — and the outrage and reflection it prompted — is widely credited with helping to spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The church, which had a predominantly African-American congregation, served as a gathering place for civil rights leaders and activists.

Past recipients of the medal include civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

It’s nice now and then for our elected leaders to act like leaders instead of blind partisans.

We could use a lot more of that sort of thing.

The next time someone points their crooked little finger at a some extremist or terrorist who kills children for their own twisted cause, we should take a moment to recall extremism and terrorism right here is as old and American as apple pie and the 4th of July.     Racial segregation is America’s greatest shame and the scars it left on this country’s soul have yet to fully heal.

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