On September 15, 1963, a Klan-planted bomb went off in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Fourteen-year-old Carolyn Maull was just a few feet away when the bomb exploded, killing four of her friends in the girl’s restroom she had just exited. It was one of the seminal moments in the Civil Rights movement, a sad day in American history . . . and the turning point in a young girl’s life.
While the World Watched is a poignant and gripping eyewitness account of life in the Jim Crow South: from the bombings, riots, and assassinations to the historic marches and triumphs that characterized the Civil Rights movement.
A uniquely moving exploration of how racial relations have evolved over the past 5 decades, While the World Watched is an incredible testament to how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go.
The nation’s collective memory of the civil rights movement depends largely on journalists and biographers who witnessed the snarling dogs and brutal racist tactics used to enforce and defend segregation in the South. In a more personal account, McKinstry, a survivor of the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., offers the rare perspective of both a child and an eyewitness to some of the most jarring aspects of blacks’ fight for civil rights. Her tale of surviving the bombing, which killed four of her friends on September 15, 1963, vividly describes the force of water from fire hoses that left a hole in her sweater; the ominous call moments before the bomb exploded; and the clouds that formed in her mental sky when she realized that the childhood innocence her parents had relied on to shield her from racism was gone. The text of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and short summaries of Jim Crow laws are an educational addition to the narrative, but in boxes alongside the main narrative, they are also a visual distraction from the main text. Depending on the reader’s knowledge of the racial disparities McKinstry grew up enduring, the additions will read as repetitive or informative. (Feb.)
Gr 7 Up—As an eyewitness to the infamous 1963 bombing of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church, McKinstry’s story is a compelling one. Not only does she speak about being at the church at the time of the bombing that killed four of her friends, but also about her lifelong struggle in coming to terms with her guilt about her own survival and her anger at the senseless, murderous act. After being knocked to the ground in the bombing, McKinstry tried to find her friends and her brothers, who were also at the church. Her brothers were found, but she soon learned that her four friends had died in the restroom where they had all chatted only minutes before. In 1963, there were no grief counselors to help McKinstry recover from the trauma. She was expected to go to school the next day and carry on with her responsibilities. The suppressed stress eventually lead to alcohol abuse when she was a college student and a young mother. Felicia Bullock narrates the personal story with subtle emotion and grace. The story is interspersed with many quotations from figures in the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr. The significance of each quoted statement is indisputable, but the monotone with which they are delivered distracts somewhat from McKinstry’s gripping personal story. This narrative (Tyndale House, 2011) is also an uplifting tale of the power of McKinstry’s Christian faith. It is an inspirational personal account and a glimpse back 50 years to a troubling time in the United States.—Ann Weber, Bellarmine Coll. Prep., San Jose, CA