Excerpts from U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s remarks Tuesday at a ceremony awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the four victims of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.:
“This year, Congress is celebrating the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement – a time that proves Frederick Douglass was right when he said, ‘If there is no struggle, then there is no progress.’ Among the beacons between his time and ours, four little lights stand out.
“It was three weeks to the day after the March on Washington. Martin Luther King Jr. back at the pulpit. This time in Birmingham, Ala. But he was not there to sermonize; he was there to eulogize — to try and make sense of the Sunday morning murder of young Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.
“‘Life is hard as crucible steel,’ Dr. King said, but ‘the innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force.’ What may have been just comfort turned out to be sheer prophecy. Birmingham had to go through hell, but found its way back and pushed itself forward, and the whole country pushed forward too.
“This is one of the true American stories.”
“This award doesn’t just immortalize people and great events. It serves a much more fundamental purpose, and that is to honor the very ideas and blessings that this nation was founded on.
“One of those ideas — the first one really — is that life is precious. Put another way, life is short. These lives were far too short. And it is when we realize life is short that we focus on what matters and on who matters. It is why we retreat from the noise to celebrate four young women whose story should be told and re-told.
“Some would call this ‘closure.’ Today they’ll say it’s ‘ceremony.’ As the father of two girls, I would just call it ‘love.’ Love saw us through this — and it will see us through whatever trials we face.
“Pour out that thimble of wisdom Dr. King used in his eulogy from the prophet Isaiah: ‘And a little child shall lead them.’ Once again, our children have led us to this simplest of notions. They bring us together. They give us hope when ours runs out. No, we didn’t need a medal to reaffirm this order of things, but we can always use a solid gold reminder.
“And so: the United States Mint, authorized by an Act of Congress, has struck in the name of the American people a Gold Medal to commemorate the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley.”
“May we serve their memories with love and honor.”