WASHINGTON (AP) — Four victims of a deadly Alabama church bombing at the height of the civil rights movement are now just a presidential signature away from receiving Congress' highest civilian honor.
The Senate on Thursday approved by voice vote a measure that would posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair. The Senate approval of the measure comes after the House in April voted 420-0 to award the medal to the girls. It now goes to President Barack Obama for signature.
Collins, Robertson and Wesley, 14 at the time of their deaths, and McNair, who was 11, were killed when a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on Sept. 15, 1963. Twenty-two others were injured when the massive explosion blew a hole through a wall in the church, shattering most of its windows.
Reps. Terri Sewell, a Democrat, and Spencer Bachus, a Republican, have led the Alabama congressional delegation in its effort to honor the girls 50 years after the bombing. Sewell and Bachus represent Birmingham districts in Congress.
The Senate passed the measure with no debate.
While Congress has widely embraced awarding the medal, the idea has divided relatives of the four victims. Some are supportive, but others say they are seeking financial compensation and have little interest in the award.
Sisters of McNair and Robertson have supported the idea, traveling to Washington to sit in the House gallery during the debate and vote on the measure. Relatives of Collins and Wesley, also known as Cynthia Morris, have said they do not want the congressional honor.
Collins' sister Sarah, was critically injured in the bombing, losing an eye, though she recovered. In an April interview with The Associated Press Sarah Collins Rudolph said she was seeking millions in financial compensation and would not accept the medal.
"I can't spend a medal," she told the AP.
Wesley's brother, Fate Morris, has also said he wants compensation and isn't interested in accepting the medal on his sister's behalf.
September will mark the 50th anniversary of the traumatic event that garnered international media coverage and is considered a catalyst to passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Three members of the Ku Klux Klan were convicted of the bombing years after the attack. Two are dead, with one is still in prison.
Past recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal include Jackie Robinson, former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, and Pope John Paul II.