BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Dozens of members of Congress are making a weekend-long civil rights pilgrimage through Alabama, visiting spots that were instrumental in the fight for racial equality under the law decades ago.

The mostly Democratic group made its first stop Friday at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, where four black girls died in a Ku Klux Klan bombing in 1963.

Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was once beaten by Alabama troopers while trying to march for voting rights, walked slowly up the church’s stone steps.

Delegation members applauded a handful of civil rights veterans as they stood in the sanctuary and then watched a play depicting the lives of the bombing victims. Lewis posed for a photo with the young cast members.

“Thank you. You made me cry. You made me laugh,” Lewis told them.

Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted two of the three KKK members convicted in the church bombing years later, discussed those cases – and the changes in Alabama since – after the performance.

“You can never close those chapters. We have to understand and learn in today’s world,” Jones said. The internet has contributed to a new rise in hate groups, he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, making his 15th trip with the group, used the stop in Birmingham to say Democrats next week would bring to the floor a bill to guarantee voting rights and make other changes long favored by Democrats.

“Voting is at the heart of our democracy,” Hoyer said.

Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne, who is challenging Jones next year, called voting rights a bipartisan issue and said a larger share of Republicans than Democrats supported key civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Later in the day, the group visited a new memorial to thousands of racial lynching victims in Montgomery, where then-Gov. George C. Wallace once vowed “segregation forever.”

Lawmakers walked somberly through the memorial, which features coffin-sized brown monuments inscribed with the names of lynching victims.

The group plans on participating in weekend civil rights commemorations in Selma.

The annual civil rights trip is sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute.

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