WASHINGTON (AP) – Four victims of a deadly Alabama church bombing at the height of the civil rights movement have been approved for Congress’ highest civilian honor.
The Senate on May 9 approved by voice vote a measure that would posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. The approval came after the House in April voted 420-0 to award the medal to the girls. The Senate passed the measure with no debate.
It now goes to President Barack Obama for signature. Addie Mae, Carole and Cynthia, 14 at the time of their deaths, and Denise, 11, were killed when a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on Sept. 15, 1963.
Twenty-two other people were injured when the massive explosion blew a hole through a wall in the church, shattering most of its windows.
Reps. Terri Sewell, a Democrat, and Spencer Bachus, a Republican, led the Alabama congressional delegation in its effort to honor the girls 50 years after the bombing. Sewell and Bachus represent Birmingham districts in Congress.
While Congress has widely embraced awarding the medal, the idea has divided relatives of the girls. Some are supportive but others say they are seeking financial compensation and have little interest in the award.
Three members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted of the bombing years after the attack. Two are dead and one is still in prison.
Past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include Jackie Robinson, former President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy and Pope John Paul II.