Congressional Gold Medal awarded to 16th Street Baptist Church b - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Congressional Gold Medal awarded to 16th Street Baptist Church bombing victims

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The 16th Street Baptist Church as it looks today. (Source: WBRC video) The 16th Street Baptist Church as it looks today. (Source: WBRC video)

The Congressional Gold Medal was presented Tuesday in memory of the four girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. It is the highest civilian award in the U.S.

President Obama signed legislation in May to award the medal to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

The ceremony was held just five days before the 50th anniversary of the bombing and was attended by national and local dignitaries. Maxine and Chris McNair also attended, and they are the only surviving parents of the four girls.

Chris McNair was released early from federal prison less than two weeks ago as part of the compassionate release program.

Sarah Collins Rudolph, the sister of Addie Made Collins, also attended.

The medal represents the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. And that appreciation was echoed over and over during the hour and a half-long ceremony.

"Their legacy truly paved the way for me and so many others to serve here in Congress. I know that the journey that I now take as Alabama's first black congresswoman would not be possible had it not been for the journey of Addie, Carol, Denise and Cynthia," Rep. Terri Sewell said.

"Birmingham would go through hell, but found its way back and pushed itself forward and pushed the whole country forward as well. This is one of the true American stories," said House Speaker John Boehner.

Congressman Spencer Bachus also spoke, saying he believes the girls will join the likes of Rosa Parks in the history of Civil Rights.

The medal will be displayed in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

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