16th Street Baptist Church bombing victims honored with Congressional Gold Medal

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest days in the nation’s history approaches, people with heavy hearts are remembering the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963.

On Tuesday, the four victims were posthumously honored in Washington by Congress.

The Congressional Gold Medal was presented to the families of Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair.

Chris and Maxine McNair are the last living parents of any of the victims of the bombing. Sarah Collins survived the attack that killed her sister.

“You know, it means a whole lot because those four girls’ death brought peace to a nation,” Collins said.

Carolyn McKinstry also survived the bombing. She expressed a great deal of gratitude for the opportunity to be in Washington for the ceremony.

“I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful to have been saved in 1963, but I’m especially grateful to be here 50 years later to honor the memory of the girls,” said McKinstry.

Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones prosecuted two of the church bombers, but in the end it took 37 years for justice to prevail.

“There was justice in what was happening here today,” Jones explained. “There was justice in our cases, but I think that there is a higher purpose that is served by recognizing these children by the Congress of the United States.”

The four girls never truly knew the impact they had on the way of life for all Americans, both black and white.

However, those who gathered in Washington on Tuesday know very well of the major impact the girls made.

“A young man like myself, an African-American, being able to serve in the halls of City Hall, 50 years ago a young man like myself, an African-American person – a black person period – could not enter those doors,” said Jay Roberson.

“Today’s event is the precursor to Birmingham’s Empowerment Week, where many will look back and join the city as it looks forward,” Congresswoman Terri Sewell said.

In the end, the historic tribute was presented under the watchful eyes of another iconic figure in the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks.

Parks is known in U.S. history as the mother of the civil rights movement. Now, the medal posthumously honored to the four girls gives them their rightful place, not just in history, but in the halls of Congress.

Copyright 2013 WIAT-TV CBS 42

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