Obama signs bill awarding 1963 Birmingham bombing victims Congressional Gold Medal

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President Barack Obama is set to sign a bill Friday that awards the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to the four African-American girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.

The children were murdered when a bomb planted by white supremacists exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in September 1963.

The deadly blast at the church, which civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. used as a meeting place, was pivotal turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and sparked support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Not only did the explosion kill the four girls- — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair – another 22 people were injured.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given in the United States. It is awarded to people “who have performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”

Each award is specifically designed by the United States mint and individual to the person honored.

The signing ceremony is scheduled to take place Friday afternoon, with members of the Alabama congressional delegation and some family of the four girls killed expected to attend at the White House.

Alabama Reps. Terri Sewell and Spencer Bachus sponsored the bill, which received final approval May 9.

“This bill signing recognizes the legacy of four beautiful little girls whose lives, while far too short, led to permanent change in our society and became an honored part of the civil rights movement,” said Rep. Bachus in a statement.

Although Congress has shown broad support for awarding the medal, the idea has split relatives of the four victims. Some are supportive, but relatives of Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley have both said they do not want the congressional honor but financial compensation.

Recent recipients include those who died in the September 11 terror attacks and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish humanitarian who helped thousands of Jews to flee Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust.

Others who have received the medal include Jackie Robinson, former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, and Pope John Paul II.

September will mark the 50th anniversary of the church bombing. Three Ku Klux Klan members were convicted years after the attack. Two are dead, with one is still serving his sentence in prison.

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