50 years after four little girls were murdered by a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama, the U.S. government honored them and presented them with the highest civilian honor.
"It is a sad story, but there is a joy that came out of it," Sarah Collins Rudolph, who survived the blast, told CBS News. "I just kept wondering, why did they kill Addie? Addie never did anything for something to kill her."
September 15, 1963 started out as a normal morning and Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were killed by a bomb thrown into the 16th Street Baptist church by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby cherry were all charged with murder and found guilty of the crime.
"These children – unoffending, innocent, and beautiful – were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetuated against humanity," Martin Luther King Jr. said at memorial service just days after the attack.
Then yesterday after a special memorial service commenced by bells tolling at 10:22 a.m. when the bomb went off, President Obama honored the four girls and their lasting legacies. Attorney General Eric Holder also paid tribute and attended a commemoration for the girls.
"We remember Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley who were killed 50 years ago in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. That horrific day in Birmingham, Alabama quickly became a defining moment for the Civil Rights Movement. It galvanized Americans all across the country to stand up for equality and broadened support for a movement that would eventually lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," Obama said.
Each girl was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest honor a civilian can receive. It requires both houses of Congress to approve the measure.
Meanwhile, Sarah Rudolph told Reuters that she had forgiven those who took the lives of her friends.
"When I would go to bed at night, I would just cry all night long, just why did they kill those girls," Rudolph said. "Being bitter won't bring the girls back, won't bring my sight back. So I had to forgive because it was what God wanted me to do."