Skip

"It is a sad story, but there is a joy that came out of it."
September 15, 2013 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Fifty years ago this morning, Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14) lost their lives when a bomb set by the KKK went off in the basement of their church in Montgomery, Alabama.

The four bombing victims were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed on civilians, after President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 360 in May to posthumously recognize the sacrifice of the four girls.

Investigators of Alabama church bombing reflect on the big break that helped them solve the case

Siblings of the victims, 50 years later.

Martin Luther King's 'Eulogy for the Martyred Children'
posted by roomthreeseventeen (22 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Spike Lee's movie 4 Little Girls was my introduction to the crime. So much has changed in 50 years, so much still needs to change.
posted by Mittenz at 12:52 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shards of stained glass from the church and spent shotgun shell casings are now in the collection of the (under-construction) National Museum of African American History and Culture, and temporarily on display at the American History Museum. Joan Mulholland, the former Freedom Rider who donated them, was recently interviewed at the gallery.
posted by djb at 1:20 PM on September 15, 2013


From the "reflect" link: Despite a national outcry for justice, however, this was Birmingham, a place where 50 other racially motivated bombings had gone unsolved over recent decades, earning the town the nickname “Bombingham.”

Fifty bombings between 1947 and 1965, according to this. There were 11 in 1963 alone. We're constantly reminded these days that we're always under threat from terrorists - can you imagine what it be like now if a city in the U.S. experienced 11 bombings in a year?
posted by rtha at 1:26 PM on September 15, 2013 [29 favorites]


I like to think the world is a better place than it was in 1963: not perfect, just better.
posted by easily confused at 1:37 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting that link to MLK's eulogy. Each time I read his words, I am reminded of what a terrible loss his assassination represents.
posted by etaoin at 3:19 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some say Dr. King's opening line, "These children, unoffending, innocent and beautiful..." and John Coltrane's "Alabama" share a sorrowful, moving cadence.
posted by Anitanola at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2013


The day after the bombing, at a meeting of the Birmingham Young Men's Business Club, Charles Morgan Jr., a young lawyer who was gradually becoming involved in the civil rights movement, made an impassioned speech:
Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, "Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?" The answer should be, "We all did it." Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it. {…} The "who" is every little individual who talks about the "niggers" and spreads the seeds of his hate to his neighbor and his son. The jokester, the crude oaf whose racial jokes rock the party with laughter. {…} It is courts that move ever so slowly, and newspapers that timorously defend the law. {…} Those four little Negro girls were human beings. They had lived their fourteen years in a leaderless city: a city where no one accepts responsibility, where everybody wants to blame somebody else.
The good people of Birmingham ostracized him, of course.
posted by Doktor Zed at 4:41 PM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]




.
posted by allthinky at 6:40 PM on September 15, 2013


The four bombing victims were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed on civilians, after President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 360 in May to posthumously recognize the sacrifice of the four girls.

The "sacrifice" of four children that were not directly involved in the Movement, and made no conscious choice about putting themselves in danger?

They were innocent victims, and nothing more. This is cheap, cynical sentimentality on Obama's part, and it's not at all surprising that James Chaney, Herbert Lee, and other activist martyrs of the civil rights struggle - the kind of people that present an example of active, conscious, concerted struggle against those in power - are not given a Congressional Gold Medal.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:41 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm kinda with Ryanshepard here. If these kids were sacrifices, what does that make their killers?
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:49 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was an excellent, and challenging, op-ed on this subject and its inadequate remembrance in today's New York Times.
“I’m letting the world know, my sister didn’t die for freedom,” she told the press. “My sister died because they put a bomb in that church and they murdered her.” Declining to attend President Obama’s signing of the resolution in May, she stated her preference for compensation “in the millions.”
posted by Miko at 9:03 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


in the basement of their church in Montgomery, Alabama.

OP, you might want to ask the mods to correct that for you. The church is in Birmingham, Alabama.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:11 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]




Let me link here to a friend's photos, from Facebook. He was in attendance today at a memorial event at the church. I think the photos are poignant.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:19 PM on September 15, 2013


.
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:53 AM on September 16, 2013


This is cheap, cynical sentimentality on Obama's part,

The President *cough* does not award the Congressional *cough* Gold Medal. He does, however, have a necessary role in signing the enabling legislation. The medals are by rule awarded by supermajority vote in both houses. H.R. 360 was sponsored by the Congresswoman from the district encompassing Birmingham, and co-sponsored by 301 members of the House.

(The President awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom.)

I don't think there's any point in starting a pissing match here over who deserves one award or the other; this is simply the highest civilian award in the United States, and is a fitting tribute.
posted by dhartung at 3:07 AM on September 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


H.R. 360 was sponsored by the Congresswoman from the district encompassing Birmingham

That is to say, Terri Sewell. (And what? It's not like you were going to get anyone voting against this bill.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:22 AM on September 16, 2013


dhartung: Thanks - I should have done more research *before* I started spewing bile. That said, I do think there is an ongoing effort (not coordinated, obviously, but still pernicious) to sentimentalize the Civil Rights Movement, and to downplay the radical, movement aspect of it (e.g. Rosa Parks' constant portrayal as a "poor, tired seamstress", rather than a veteran member of the NAACP participating in a planned challenge to segregation.) This strikes me as part of that, but doesn't excuse my getting the facts wrong.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:44 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think there's any point in starting a pissing match here over who deserves one award or the other; this is simply the highest civilian award in the United States, and is a fitting tribute.

It's not a pissing match - it's about medal devaluation.

The comparable military medal is the Medal of Honor, which is usually awarded posthumously. To take just one of those citations (and you should really read them all if you get a chance):

Hospital Apprentice First Class Bush, Robert Eugene.
Place and date: Okinawa Jima, Ryukyu Islands, 2 May 1945
... As the attack passed over a ridge top, Bush was advancing to administer blood plasma to a marine officer lying wounded on the skyline when the Japanese launched a savage counterattack. In this perilously exposed position, he resolutely maintained the flow of life-giving plasma. With the bottle held high in 1 hand, Bush drew his pistol with the other and fired into the enemy's ranks until his ammunition was expended. Quickly seizing a discarded carbine, he trained his fire on the Japanese charging pointblank over the hill, accounting for 6 of the enemy despite his own serious wounds and the loss of 1 eye suffered during his desperate battle in defense of the helpless man. With the hostile force finally routed, he calmly disregarded his own critical condition to complete his mission, valiantly refusing medical treatment for himself until his officer patient had been evacuated, and collapsing only after attempting to walk to the battle aid station.
This is the equivalency. That kind of heroism and deliberate self sacrifice. Seriously, read some of those stories. To give its civilian equivalent to children who had the incredibly bad fortune of being where some racists set off a bomb is an enormous slap in the face.
posted by corb at 6:50 AM on September 16, 2013


corb: "The comparable military medal is the Medal of Honor, which is usually awarded posthumously... To give its civilian equivalent to children who had the incredibly bad fortune of being where some racists set off a bomb is an enormous slap in the face."

Wow, talk about cheap, cynical sentimentality! These two awards are "comparable" in the sense that one can go about comparing apples and oranges if one likes, but at the end of the day, one's an apple, and one's an orange.

As was mentioned earlier, Congress awards the Congressional Gold Medal, while the President awards the Medal of Freedom. If you wanted to make a case that there was anything "comparable" to the Medal of Honor, it would be the Medal of Freedom, but even then, you're comparing two different medals with their own rules that govern who deserves them.

The Congressional Gold Medal has been given to, among others, Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin, Walt Disney, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson. Were these awards a "slap in the face" to the military heroes who have received a totally different award? What about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and the Little Rock Nine -- should we have given the Gold Medal to those individuals, or did doing so cheapen the meaning of a completely unrelated honor reserved for military personnel?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:52 AM on September 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Never mind ...
posted by octobersurprise at 12:34 PM on September 16, 2013


« Older He has a very distinct presence   |   Beer googles: the studies Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post