Braddock said she returned to New York and transferred to Queens College.

"It was too painful to go back [to Birmingham], and my parents supported that decision," she said.

Congressional Gold Medal

In the center of Braddock's Laurel dining room table is the Congressional Gold Medal that Congress voted April 24 to award the families of the four girls. Braddock has a picture propped up near the medal that she took with another victim's sister and Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and major player in the civil rights struggle, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol the day of that vote. Braddock was holding a picture of Carole, who was dressed up for her coming-out debutante ball.

The medal has the names of all four girls engraved on it, along with the date of the bombing and the phrase: "Pivotal in the struggle for equality," on one side. The other side of the medal has a rendition of the church engraved on it.

"We had input on the medal's design," Braddock said. "The family wants to make a case to put it in."

Braddock also has photos of herself and others connected to the bombing that were taken at the White House when President Barack Obama signed the bill that authorized the medal.

"[Obama] said 'I am here because of the civil rights movement and I want to thank you on behalf of a grateful nation,'" Braddock said. "He said 'we can never repay you for your loss.' "

The medals were presented to the families Sept. 10 in a ceremony on Capitol Hill, attended by the leadership of both parties and members of both houses of Congress. At a later ceremony in Birmingham on Sept. 13, Braddock and family members of the other bombing victims were given bronze replicas of the medal by Congressional Black Caucus members. District of Columbia officials declared Sept. 15 Carole Robertson Day.

Because Carole was an avid reader, an artistic reading bench, with pictures of the four girls hung above it, was dedicated in her honor at the Birmingham library this year.

Other 50th anniversary events have kept Braddock in and out of Laurel all year. A retired Prince George's County school principal, Braddock moved to Laurel eight years ago after living in Hyattsville for 30 years. She is a consultant with the county school system and is active with her sorority and the local Democratic Party. She also sits on the board of the Carole Robertson Center for Learning in Chicago.

Braddock has made sure her seven grandchildren know about their great aunt and she has taken them to the Birmingham church. When one of her grandsons saw Carole's picture in a Newseum exhibit, he instantly recognized his great aunt.

"I don't want them or anyone to ever forget what hatred and ignorance can do," Braddock said. "It's important to not let hate prevail and to remember these innocent girls, whose deaths sparked lots of change in this country."