My name is Siri Manning, and I am a senior Political Science major from Breckenridge, MN. My political beliefs have always been fairly fluid due to the fact that my dad, a pastor, has refused to go into detail about his ideas on politics my entire life in order to appear objective to his congregation. I have my suspicions about who he voted for in the 2012 election cycle, but he has consistently managed to effectively dodge my questions with broad academic statements about ethics. I have to say “fairly fluid” because my mom is a music teacher and daughter to dairy farmers and I have grown up listening to National Public Radio, so fluid, in this respect, probably exists on a sliding scale between “moderate” and “Green Party.”
Sunday, September 16th, marked the 50th anniversary of a racially motivated bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. On that morning fifty years ago, three members of the Klu Klux Klan planted a bomb under the steps of the church that exploded during the church’s Youth Sunday and killed 4 young girls in an event that would rock the nation and change the its perspective of the Civil Rights movement. 50 years later, Congress posthumously awarded the victims, who have now become known as the “four little girls,” the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest honors that can be awarded to civilians as the “highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.” The award ceremony took place in Washington D.C., five days before the anniversary of the attack, and was attended by the families of the victims. Various high-profile politicians on both sides of the aisle such as Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner spoke to the legacy of the girls who were killed and the way their deaths impacted the Civil Rights Movement, pledging to continue working towards racial equality.
This is not enough, and it has happened too late.
Sarah Collins Rudolph, a sister of one of the victims, lost her eye in the attack, and initially refused the award when it was offered, saying, “I’m letting the world know, my sister didn’t die for freedom. . . My sister died because they put a bomb in that church and they murdered her.” Although she did end up attending the ceremony, her statement should resonate with the American people. Why did it take 50 years for some recognition of the lives lost at that church? And what is a medal given posthumously supposed to do to change a political climate marked by the death of Trayvon Martin and the issues surrounding the Voting Rights Act? It is easier to raise a statue of the girls in Birmingham than to address the issues surrounding their death, and this is what has happened a half century after the attack. While these efforts were well intentioned, awarding medals and erecting statues is not, and should never, be enough to assuage the horror of innocent lives lost because of hate. The people of the United States must be able to have productive, honest, and difficult conversations about the role of race in society and the obstacles that still need to be overcome in order to truly move forward and honor the many lives lost throughout the Civil Rights Movement, especially the four girls who lost their lives 50 years ago.