(Extensions of Remarks - April 25, 2013)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E546-E547]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []



                               speech of

                        HON. SHEILA JACKSON LEE

                                of texas

                    in the house of representatives

                       Wednesday, April 24, 2013

  Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a sense of 
indignation, sadness, and deep and abiding pride in the memory of four 
little girls from Alabama who were callously murdered by the bomb of a 
homegrown terrorist.
  Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair 
did not get a chance to celebrate any more birthdays, run through the 
fields of Alabama, go to the prom, dance at a wedding, or simply grow 
up and enjoy life as Americans.
  As was reflected in the prayer given last week in this Chamber by 
world-renowned soul and gospel singer Yolanda Adams we have been taught 
to embrace God's grace and mercy, and for those who will listen, to 
stand in the sunlight of joy as one looks toward the hopefulness of the 
future, while standing tall as a Black woman in the memory of my four 
little girls, your girls--these little girls were America's children, 
and bore the brunt of a very ugly side during a very nasty, ugly, 
vicious, cruel, and inexorably painful era in the history of the United 
  Mr. Speaker, on August 27, 1963, at the March on Washington, the 
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the speech that both 
challenged and inspired a nation. ``I have a dream,'' he said, that 
``one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls 
will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as 
sisters and brothers.''
  Nineteen days later, on September 15, 1963, the nation learned that 
there was still a long path to travel before it realized Dr. King's 
dream. For on that day 50 years ago, the nation was shocked--and the 
City of Birmingham was rocked--by an explosion at the 16th Street 
Baptist Church that severely damaged the church, injured 22 people, and 
claimed the lives of four beautiful and innocent little girls: Addie 
Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair.
  But the horror and heartbreak of that tragedy galvanized a nation to 
act. Less than two years later, the nation responded to one of the 
worst and cowardly acts of hatred with two great acts of justice that 
have changed America for the better and still stand today as monuments 
to what can be achieved when challenged to live up to the true meaning 
of its creed.
  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are a 
part of the legacy of Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, Cynthia 
Wesley and Denise McNair.
  Today we celebrate their lives--lives cut down as they should have 
been learning to bake cakes, play hopscotch, and learn the violin, 
instead they were murdered in a place which should have been a safe 
haven, a sanctuary. The death of the four girls drew national attention 
to the fight for civil rights and is credited with creating a surge of 
momentum for the civil rights movement.
  It is also important that we pass on the lessons learned through this 
deep tragedy so that we do not repeat it. Little girls and little boys 
around this great nation should hold hands and walk together regardless 
of race, color, religion, or creed.
  This bill simply directs the Speaker of the House and the president 
pro tempore of the Senate to arrange for the posthumous award of a 
Congressional Gold Medal to commemorate the lives of Addie Mae Collins, 
Denise McNair, Carole Robinson and Cynthia Wesley in recognition of the 
historical significance of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist 
Church. But this bill is more than that. It is a reckoning.
  This legislation, which I am proud to co-sponsor and strongly 
support, is intended to complete some of the nation's most important 
unfinished business. And that is to address one of the most depraved 
acts of violence against school-aged girls belonging to a racial group 
which was vulnerable, politically powerless, and innocent, and against 
those persons who risked life and limb to help them secure the rights 
promised in the Declaration of Independence and made real in the 
  The Congressional Gold Medal recognizing the 50th Anniversary of 16th 
Street Baptist Church bombing is long overdue. I thank my CBC colleague 
who hails from Alabama, Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Birmingham, who 
sponsored this legislation, and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, who 
leads the Senate effort for this special recognition as America comes 
to terms with its rich and often painful history.
  Mr. Speaker, in 1989 the Civil Rights Memorial was dedicated in 
Montgomery, Alabama, the birthplace of the modern Civil Rights 
Movement. The Memorial honors the lives and memories of 40 civil rights 
martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle for justice and equality. 
But we know that many more people lost their lives to racial violence 
during that era. In honoring the four little girls of Birmingham today, 
let us resolve to remain steadfast in the quest to obtain justice for 
these other heroes.
  Mr. Speaker, fifty years later we have made much progress from the 
dark days of Birmingham. In those days there simply was no justice for 
African Americans because the criminal justice system--from the police, 
to the prosecutors, to the juries, and to the judges--was perverted by 
racial bigotry.
  Inspired by the sacrifice of four little girls in Birmingham, 
Americans of good will and of all races and creeds, worked to hasten 
the day when all would be treated equally before the law and every 
person would be judged by the content of their character.
  It is, of course, fitting and proper that H.R. 360 bears the names of 
Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. 
Although forever linked together in history, we must not forget that 
each of them was an individual. Each had her own hopes and dreams for 
the future. Sadly, they were robbed of that future by the cowardly act 
of persons motivated by racial hatred. But in sacrificing their 
futures, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise 
McNair helped to transform America into a place where little girls and 
little boys today can know that their dreams can come true and their 
futures will be bright and that racial hatred is no longer an 
insuperable barrier to realizing the American Dream.
  Mr. Speaker, nearly 50 years ago, on June 11, 1963, President John F. 
Kennedy addressed the nation from the Oval Office on the state of race 
relations and civil rights in America. In his historic speech to the 
nation President Kennedy said:

       We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as 
     old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American 
     Constitution. . . .
       [T]his Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will 
     not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

  H.R. 360 is intended to help bring justice to those whom justice has 
been delayed for more than two generations. In doing so, this 
legislation will help this Nation fulfill its hopes and justify its 
boast that in America all persons live in freedom.
  And Mr. Speaker, let us also remember young Virgil Lamar Ware, a 
thirteen-year-old black boy who was killed by segregationists while 
riding on the handlebars of his brother's bicycle. His killers had just 
attended a segregationist rally held in the aftermath of the Sixteenth 
Street Baptist Church bombing.
  It is a sad but unfortunately not uncommon occurrence that it is 
innocent children who suffer when adults give in to hate. But as the 
scriptures teach us, unearned suffering is redemptive. And the blood of 
the innocents--Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson, Cynthia Wesley and 
Denise McNair--helped to redeem our country and make it better.
  I urge all Members to join me in supporting this fitting tribute to 
their heroism and sacrifice by voting to pass H.R. 360.

[[Page E547]]