x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

US Congress to honour victims of 1963 church bombing

The US Congress plans to give its highest honour to four girls killed in a notorious 1963 church bombing, one of the most chilling incidents of the civil rights struggle.

WASHINGTON // The US Congress plans to give its highest honour to four girls killed in a notorious 1963 church bombing, one of the most chilling incidents of the civil rights struggle.

The Gold Medal will be presented posthumously by House of Representative and Senate leaders at a September 10 ceremony to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, each 14 years old or younger when they were killed, John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said.

"The medal is being presented in recognition of how their deaths served as a catalyst for the civil rights movement."

The girls died on September 15, 1963 - just 18 days after the historic March on Washington - when four Ku Klux Klan members planted a bomb in a church in Birmingham, Alabama, in the heart of the segregated South.

The 16th Street Baptist Church was the biggest in the city and served as a meeting point for the anti-segregation movement.

The explosion, which went off during the Sunday service, wounded some 20 children and killed the four young girls, shocking Americans at a key moment in the fight against the racially motivated Jim Crow laws, which legalised segregation.

One of the attackers was sentenced to life in prison in 1977, while two others were sentenced in 2001 and 2002 after the FBI reopened the investigation.

Previous recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include the Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, first man on the moon Neil Armstrong, Martin Luther King Jr, and the victims of the September 11 attacks.

On Wednesday Americans will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King's famous "I have a dream" speech, a major turning point in the struggle for equal rights.