They were just little girls when they were killed in 1963, in what came to be known as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. And now Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley have been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, nearly 50 years after the attack in Birmingham, Ala.
President Obama signed the legislation Friday to award the girls — all of them 14, except for McNair, who was 11 — with the highest honor Congress can bestow upon a civilian.
The girls' deaths, from dynamite hidden under a bathroom by white supremacists, helped propel the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress. They were eulogized by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously asked, "What murdered these little girls?" — a sentiment echoed in director Spike Lee's film about the incident, 4 Little Girls.
The prosecution of those responsible stretched out over decades. The last living defendant, former Ku Klux Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr., was convicted of four counts of murder in 2001.
In recent weeks, both the House and Senate passed the bill honoring the girls with unanimous votes. One of the bill's sponsors was Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, who attended the signing of the legislation in the Oval Office Friday.
"It's a very proud moment for me, both as an American and as an Alabamian," Sewell tells WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti on Friday's Here & Now. "I grew up in Selma, Alabama, and it was because of the sacrifices that were made by so many, including the families of these four little girls, that I get an opportunity to walk the halls of Congress as the first African-American woman from Alabama."
As Melanie Peeples reported for NPR back in 2003, the bombing is part of a violent legacy with which Birmingham is still coping. And as Tanya Ott reported earlier this year, bombing survivor Sarah Collins Rudolph, Addie Mae's sister, continues to struggle with the lingering and painful effects of the attack.
Los Angeles is the world leader in the most American of clothing items — blue jeans. High-end, hand-stitched blue jeans, very expensive designer jeans that will you run well over $100 a pair.
As the U.S. apparel industry continues to shrink, L.A.'s blue jeans business faces a threat.
The European Union has imposed a nearly 40 percent tariff which could cripple the city's jean business.
When people talk about Ilse Metchek they use phrases like "she's a piece of work," "a force of nature," "she's something else." If you want to talk fashion, she's your lady.
Metchek is president of the California Fashion Association. I went to her office in downtown Los Angeles to talk about jeans and fashion. Metchek has more than 40 years experience as a fashion designer.
No sooner than I could sit down, she scrutinized every piece of clothing I was wearing — especially the fabric on my jeans.
"You see the pix, the pixel? That's treatment," Metchek says. "The fabric doesn't come like that. Some machine is streaking them that way. That's expensive. And they fit. There's a different fit. You didn't buy Levi's, you didn't buy a Gap jean. You bought those."
Seventy-five percent of the designer jeans sold in the world are made in California. Over the last 20 years, an industry cluster was created in Los Angeles. While much of clothing manufacturing has been shipped offshore, high-end or more sophisticated manufacturing stayed here.
And high-end jeans are complicated — there are different washes, there's distressing and elaborate designs.
"The more complicated you can make that jean look, the more expensive it is. And that is at the wash house. And we have most of the wash houses in the world right here," Metchek says.
To see how and where premium jeans are made, you can have your choice of more than 30 different manufacturers in Los Angeles to visit. AG Jeans is one of the biggest, and the company makes some of the most expensive jeans — as much as $300 a pair.
More than 40,000 people work in the apparel business in Los Angeles County alone, with women's clothing being responsible for the lion's share of those jobs.
In April, the European Union announced that tariffs on women's denim jeans would rise to 38 percent from 12 percent. It's retaliation for when the United States failed to comply with a World Trade Organization ruling.
Samuel Ku, who runs AG Jeans alongside his father, says the European tariff puts many of those jobs at risk.
"For our women's jean that's made in this factory ... we can't continue to do the same business shipping that jean to Paris. It's impossible," he says.
Ku says he'll still makes the bulk of his jeans in Los Angeles, but he also has a factory in Mexico. He's likely to shift manufacturing there for the jeans that are exported to Europe. He says it won't be so easy for his competitors.
"[Because] they've got no options. ... Let's say you have a factory. Overnight, 30 percent of your business might be gone. You're going to be afraid."
Metchek says clothing companies could easily pick up and move to China or Mexico.
"They make them here and they trade on the Made in USA label. ... They will still be in business, but that label will come off," she says. And with it, Metchek says, could go thousands of U.S. jobs.
There are two things you can always count on: public radio pledge drives and the local blood bank asking for a donation of a very different sort.
Both kinds of giving can fill you with a sense of goodwill. But, let's be honest, the tote bags help, too.
When it comes to blood donations, though, ethical concerns and risk have led to limits on incentives for donors in many places. The World Health Organization has set a goal for governments around the world to reach completely voluntary and nonremunerated donations of blood by 2020.
The WHO declaration, made in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009, came, in part, because the assembled public health officials asserted their belief that "paid donation can compromise the establishment of sustainable blood collection" from volunteers. Also, paying people to give blood may hurt the quality of donations.
Three economists argue in the latest issue of Science that it's time to rethink restrictions. In the last few years there have been some real-world experiments with incentives that suggest they can help increase donations without causing trouble.
In Switzerland, the reward of a lottery ticket valued at a little over five bucks lifted donations by about 5 percentage points from a base of about 42 percent of the population that typically gave blood. In the U.S., a $10 gift card increased donations by 7 percentage points over the usual 13 percent donation level.
The economists, including Nicola Lacetera of the University of Toronto Mississauga, wrote that the incentives led to quick and localized upticks in donations, which could help with blood shortages.
There are a few things that can be done to minimize potential problems. Offering incentives framed as rewards, rather than outright cash payments, would make sense, for instance.
And giving rewards to people who show up to donate — not just to those people who complete donation — could reduce the incentive for people to lie in order to qualify as a donor. "This practice may be critical for blood safety when incentives are offered," the economists write.
The details can be fiddled with, and researched some more. "But there should be little debate that the most relevant empirical evidence shows positive effects of offering economic rewards on donations," the authors conclude.
Ten years ago, writer Richard Rubin set out to talk to every living American veteran of World War I he could find. It wasn't easy, but he tracked down dozens of centenarian vets, ages 101 to 113, collected their stories and put them in a new book called The Last of the Doughboys. He tells NPR's Melissa Block about the veterans he talked to, and the stories they shared.
On how he found the veterans, after the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion came up short
"In 1998, the government of France had started awarding the Legion of Honor, their highest decoration, to living American veterans who'd served in World War I on French soil. And they undertook an intensive search for such men, and they ended up finding 550 or so men and women, and eventually I found a list of these people; and that was the first big break I got."
On Arthur Fiala, then 104, of Kewaunee, Wis., who left for France in early 1918 and still remembered details like how porpoises swam alongside the boat on his way to Europe and, upon arriving, a man he saw "taking a pee" while tipping his hat to a woman walking by
"That's the kind of thing I don't think you ever forget, I suppose, if you see it — especially if you've just landed in-country after a long ocean voyage. But he — at one point we're talking, and he starts to tell me this wonderful story about stumbling into a mountain village in France, and the girls are wearing wooden shoes and carrying a yoke with milk pails. And he's invited into a house, and they keep a cow in the house on the other side of a partition from the living room. And, you know, a lot of people that I interviewed had really remarkable memories, but I think his was even special in that group."
On whether the veterans had told their stories many times before
"Quite a few of them told me that they were telling me things that they hadn't talked about in 50, 60, 70 years. I asked a few of them why not, and the surprising response often was that nobody had asked."
On the race to get to the veterans before it was too late
"I'm sorry to tell you that often that was a race that I lost. For everybody who's in this book, there's somebody I didn't get to on time. I remember one gentleman who lived out in Las Vegas. I spoke to his niece, who was his closest living relative. He was 108 at the time, and she said, 'Oh yes, he's very clear-minded, and he loves to talk.' So I booked the ticket for two weeks hence, and by the time I got out there he was unconscious in a hospital bed, and he died the next morning."
On veteran George Briant's memories of the war
"Of all the veterans I interviewed, he came the closest to being killed in the war. On July 28, 1918, he and his battery were moving through an open field, and they were stopped. And all of a sudden, German planes appeared overhead and dropped bombs on them. And I asked him how many were dropped, and he said he didn't know, but he was hit by every one. And he went to the hospital for several months and had to beg them to send him back to the front. And he got there just a few weeks before the war ended, and witnessed horrible, horrible things on the last night of the war. ...
"He was walking around, and there were some men who had sought shelter in a patch of woods, and the Germans targeted it with artillery. And a number of these men were killed at that spot. And he came upon their bodies very shortly after that happened, and he said, 'Such fine, handsome, healthy young men, to be killed on the last night of the war.' He said, 'I cried for their parents.' I mean it's a terrible, terrible thing to lose anyone you love in a war, but imagine knowing precisely when that war ends, and then knowing that your loved one died just hours before that moment."
On the experience of hearing Briant tell that story
"It was a strange thing. He started crying quite vigorously, but then a couple of minutes later he stopped just as suddenly, and his mood was actually the best it had been the whole time I was there. I like to think that maybe he purged something that he'd been carrying around for nearly 100 years."
On how, after being known as the Great War and The War To End All Wars, World War I became a forgotten war
"That's a very interesting question, because once upon a time that was not so. If you walk around with your eyes open, you'll quickly discover that there are more monuments and memorials in this country to World War I than to any other war. So for some years after the war ended, it was terribly important to people that it and the people who fought it be remembered. But the war was also a terribly traumatic experience for this country. You have to remember that it didn't start like World War II — we weren't attacked. And Americans were in [World War I] for only about 19 months, and yet in that time we lost 117,000 men. It was a terribly traumatic experience, and afterwards America withdrew into itself. And then of course the Great Depression came along and World War II, and the Great War got pushed further back in our national consciousness."