Rep. Sewell Speaks on the House Floor to Commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing
September 13, 2023
Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) spoke on the House Floor to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and honor the lives of the Four Little Girls killed in the attack.
A recording is available for broadcast purposes here. Rep. Sewell’s remarks are transcribed below:
Rep. Sewell: Mister Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, and to honor the lives and legacies of Four Little Girls killed in such a heinous attack.
60 years ago, as parishioners of the 16th Street Baptist Church prepared for Sunday service, 19 sticks of dynamite placed by Ku Klux Klan members exploded. As the interior of the walls of the church caved in, over 100 churchgoers rushed for safety. Though most of the congregation escaped, under the debris lay the bodies of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Morris Wesley, as well Sarah Collins Rudolph who was injured but ultimately survived.
Tragically, the brutality did not stop after the bombing. When African American communities across the State of Alabama took to the streets to demand justice, they were met with unspeakable violence at the hands of law enforcement. Within a few hours, Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware, ages 16 and 13, were killed in clashes between protesters and the police.
Despite the horrific nature of this attack, it took over 34 years before the perpetrators faced justice.
In 2013, Mr. Speaker, I was honored that my very first bill I passed in this body awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor we can give, to the Four Little Girls posthumously to ensure that their lives were never forgotten.
While we will never recover the lives lost or the injuries suffered, we know that their sacrifice was not in vain.
Indeed, the loss of the Four Little Girls changed America forever, bringing into clarity our nation’s storied history of racially motivated violence and galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.
It was their memory that inspired generations of freedom fighters to build a world where the color of your skin does not determine the value of your life.
It was their memory that burned in the minds of the Foot Soldiers as they fought to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
And it was their sacrifice that brought our nation closer to realizing its highest ideals of equality and justice for all.
Without the influence of the Four Little Girls, I not only question where America would be, but where I would be. 60 years after their passing, I get to walk the halls of Congress as Alabama’s first Black Congresswoman. I do so because of their sacrifice and because they cannot.
Their premature and senseless death serves as a constant reminder that every battle, every gain in the fight for civil rights has come at a high cost, paid for by the sacrifice of others.
Yet despite their gains and our gains as a nation, we know that our work is far from over. Today, as extremists seek to rewrite our history and roll back our progress, it has never been more crucial to ensure that the legacy of the Four Little Girls lives on in American history.
After all, those who don’t learn from their history are doomed to repeat it.
In the words of Coretta Scott King, "struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. It’s earned and won in every generation."
I ask my colleagues to join me in honoring the lives of the Four Little Girls and remembering them by name: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Morris Wesley.
Thank you, and I yield back.