BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Friday, many will pause to remember the four girls whose deaths inside the 16th Street Baptist Church marked a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.
The church bombing that killed Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Roberson, and Cynthia McKinney would create an urgency for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
50 years after the bombing, the United States posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the country, to the four girls killed in the attack. The medal remains on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
“To have the first Black president present that award, to have Congresswoman Terri Sewell be a sponsor of that award, and then to have this place that was created by the first African-American mayor of this city, to have enough vision to create a space where we could house that: it shows the layers of what the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is preserving in that legacy,” said DeJauna Thompson, President and CEO of BCRI.
The Congressional Gold Medal is situated on the BCRI tour just after visitors experience the horrific bombing that killed the four girls, as well as the killings of Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware.
“I think it’s a place where people do a lot of reflection. That’s important because they are leaving from that space, and going into a space where now ‘what do you do?'” said Thompson.
Thompson said the Congressional Gold Medal sparks intergenerational conversations.
During the World Games 2022 that Birmingham hosted last year, Thompson saw firsthand the medal’s impact on leaders from other countries.
“That was one of the spaces where we sat with and talked about their policies and their procedures and practices about what they are doing to preserve the history of certain people,” said Thompson.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has new banners handing on the façade of the building honoring the four girls.
On Friday, Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson will deliver a key note address at the 16th Street Baptist Church.