Nearly 50 years ago, a bomb planted by white supremacists killed four little girls in Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church. Twenty-two others, mostly children, were injured in the blast just weeks after the historic "March on Washington" where Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
There is already intense planning in the nation's capital and beyond to mark the 50th anniversary of the "March on Washington" in August of this year. But once we have moved past the ceremony and celebration of the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of the nation, what will be said days later of Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robinson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14 when they were killed, and Denise McNair who was just 11, on the 50th anniversary of this seminal moment in the movement? The gruesome and ghastly images of their deaths helped to galvanize the Civil Rights Movement in the days after the march, and within a year Congress had passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and one year later the 1965 Voting Rights Act. How do we honor their ultimate sacrifice?
There is now a bipartisan effort to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to these precious young girls. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor our government can bestow. There is no doubt that these "martyred children" have earned this recognition, but even when Congress is pushed it does nothing with alacrity. If we are going to appropriately acknowledge these four little girls 50 years later on September 15, 2013, we need to start niggling members of Congress now. Right now.
I know a little something about how this works.
Years ago when I was the resident political and social commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, we spearheaded a campaign to have the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to Rosa Parks as she was advancing in age. You would think an effort to honor the woman regarded as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement would have been an easy task. Hardly. It was a tough fight. This was long before she was honored as the first woman to lie in repose in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, and obviously long before the recent addition of her statue in the National Statuary Hall chamber of the Capitol building.
Over the radio I would do a daily roll call of every member of Congress who had not signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation to honor Mrs. Parks. Live over the airwaves I would call out members' names, office numbers and fax numbers. (We didn't have email addresses and Twitter handles to give out back then.) One by one, our advocacy efforts were moving us closer to getting the long overdue recognition and respect that Mrs. Parks had long ago earned and richly deserved.
My office is filled with precious memories and cherished photographs, but none more special than the photos of President Bill Clinton, Mrs. Rosa Parks, Tom Joyner and me standing in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda the day she was awarded the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.
We can do this again. How?
Black radio, the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook. However you communicate, spread the word. Time is of the essence.
Just weeks after his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech, Dr. King traveled to Birmingham to deliver a eulogy for the "martyred children" as he called them. "These children --- unoffending; innocent and beautiful --- were the victims of one of the most vicious, heinous crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. Yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were on the mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well."
Let us demand that Congress move swiftly so that come September 15, alongside the families of these four little girls, we will know that we played our parts exceedingly well to ensure that although these beautiful children of God are gone, they are not forgotten.
Follow Tavis Smiley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tavissmiley