Customer Reviews: While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement
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on September 17, 2012
I wish I could place a copy of it into the hands of everyone I know.

While Carolyn Maull was growing up in "black" Birmingham, I was spending every long summer of my school years visiting my grandparents in "white" Birmingham. While her father was waiting on tables at the Birmingham Country Club, I was receiving gracious engraved invitations from my grandparents' friends to enjoy swimming there during my summer visits. I wonder how many times I was entertained at Sunday after-church dinner in that sunlit, high-ceilinged dining room.

I wonder how many times I was driven past the imposing structure of the 16th Street Baptist Church. It's as familiar to me as any other Birmingham landmark. But where I might have seen it in passing, Carolyn Maull was there every Sunday morning of her life. It was her church, her Sunday School, her four young friends whose lives were destroyed by hatred. For as ignorant as I was (and I was pretty ignorant), I carried one searing lesson away from that terrible September day when four young girls had their lives snatched away. I was the same age as they were--twelve years old in 1963. I've been able to move freely through my life's story--through school and college, marriage, family, and career, and into the sorrows of widowhood and the joys of being a grandmother. I've been able to do all of that, but their lives were stopped in an instant. They were robbed of their futures by a monstrous hatred, shored up by an unbelievable indifference.

Read this book and Carolyn Maull will tell you what it was like to grow up as an African-American child in the most segregated, most racially violent city in America. You'll learn about how anxious parents tried to shelter their children, hedging them about with rules and restrictions designed to protect them from the worst of the violence. You'll understand just a little better about the baffling restrictions on everything from water fountains to lunch counters to highway restrooms. You'll feel some of the confusion and hurt that she felt when reaction to this bombing, and all the others, was muted and stifled--swept under the rug so that some semblance of normal life could go on. You'll feel at least some of the fear and pain of a little girl who, upon hearing of the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi could only think, "Is that going to happen to my Daddy, too? Is somebody going to shoot him in front of our house?"

The author has paid a terrible personal price for the events of that long-ago Sunday morning. She has shared her struggle with us in all frankness, and we can rejoice with her that she has forgiven, she has prevailed, and she has grown stronger. I believe this book is vital to the chronicles of those terrible times, and that it contains lessons we can apply now and in the future. I'd like to see it on best-seller lists all over the country. Please avail yourself of this story and give it a thoughtful, careful reading.
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on January 31, 2011
This memoir, written by a survivor of a Klan-planted bomb that went off in her church and killed four of her teenage girlfriends, both inspired and educated me. Carolyn Maull McKinstry tells of growing up in Birmingham (called "Bombingham" by many at the time) and how the tragic bombing of September 15, 1963 shaped her life for years to come. And though this tragedy occured in church, she looked to Jesus to heal her and help her forgive.

This well-written personal story contains a timeline, photos, copies of Jim Crow Laws and excerpts of speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr., John Kennedy and Governor George Wallace. It is very helpful in getting an overall picture of the segregated south and the Civil Rights Movement.

I plan to use the book when teaching about the Civil Rights movement in our homeschool.

Tyndale House provided me with a review copy of this book which is no way influenced my review.
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on February 15, 2011
"Not many young people can pinpoint the exact date, time, and place they grew up and became an adult. I can. It was September 15, 1963, 10:22 a.m., at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama."

While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry (with Denise George) is a moving memoir of horror and forgiveness. What struck me almost every page is that this happened less than 50 years ago. The title kept being played in my head with the question, "How could the world simply let this happen?"

The book details the accounts of the murders of Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley who died when Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed. More than that though, it details the struggles of of the civil rights movement through the eyes of the author. It is simply an amazing account of two wars. One, the fight for equality for Black America, and two, the fight for meaning in the heart of a young girl who was forever changed in a moment.

I have to admit that I did not think I would enjoy this book. I assumed it would be of the "all whites are evil" variety. It was nothing of the sort. There was horror, but there was also hope. There was tragedy, but there was also triumph. There was hatred, but it was not ultimately returned - there was forgiveness.

As I finished, the same question continues to haunt me, "How could this happen?" And yet tragedy continues to flourish and the world still remains silent. But that, is for another post.

A couple of theological issues aside, my children will be reading this book; they will not forget, and they will never simply "watch".

Love in the Truth.

Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.
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on February 7, 2013
This is the story of someone who lived during the height of the civil rights struggle and was actually in the 16th Street Baptist church when the bombings occurred. Should be riveting right? At least that was my expectation. I expected this book to take me where Spike Lee's documentary could not go. Unfortunately I set the bar too high or the author set hers too low.

The sequencing of Ms Mckinstry's story was absolutely horrendous! Not the fault of the author but the editor in my opinion. The story was being told by an adult but the 14 year old kept trying to have her voice heard. The time would change from 1963 to 1968 without a transition sentence and then to another year altogether.

Worst than the sequencing were the lengthy quotes from other people (mainly Dr. King). If you are already somewhat versed in the civil rights movement do you really need to read Dr. King's `'I have a Dream" speech within the pages of this particular story? These speeches and quotes are peppered throughout the entire book. I couldn't get through the book until I just started skipping them altogether.

Another thing that bugged me about the book was the author's numerous speculations about what people 'may' have thought. Example: her brother became quiet after the bombings. She states "he may have thought...". She did the same with her parents. If you never asked them how something affected them, please don't make it up unless you're writing fiction. Just stick to how it affected you.

All in all, if the book is re-edited to only include her story, be properly sequenced, and eliminate all the filler, it could be a worthy read
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on June 30, 2011
While the world watched by Carolyn Maul McKinstry. It wasnt' my favorite story. Being as I was not alive during the civil rights nightmare of the 60's I was reading history I knew very little about. Historically I was facinated by the story and disheartened by how little was done for so very long... But the story was difficult to follow. She went in no particular order and I was constantly wondering where this event fit in the overall story. I had to often refer to the timeline in the front of the book. I also felt the placement of letters or excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were distracting. She quoted so many of his speeches, yet not always by the copy of the speech. Maybe an appendix in the back of the book, listing his speeches would have been better? A good read for the historical facts and first hand accounts from Carolyn Maul McKinstry a surviver of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing.
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on December 12, 2011
Everyone should read this wonderful book and not forget. She put me right into the time. I felt all the emotions she had. She is an inspiration to all. To think the children never talked to their parents or another adult about all that was going on. Prisoners in their own homes and minds. To have a safe place to be a community and be themselves to only loose it by a bomb and evil people. I praise her to overcome all the obstacles and apply her experiences to tell others, especially to me. Let us hope that injustices as this never return to our country. What she taught me about Martin Luther King makes me want to know more. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
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on October 2, 2012
This book offers a glimpse into the life of the author, from growing up in Birmingham during the height of the Civil Rights era, to her continued work for equal rights today. She doesn't spare the readers any of the injustice, indignity, or the outright horrors she experienced during her life. I have read the history of the Civil Rights era, and watched documentaries, but Mrs. McKinstry's story adds the emotional impact of the immediate events and the lasting ramifications experienced throughout her life.

This book can be difficult to read, because of it's personal nature. I found myself putting the book down often, thinking what I would have done in a certain situation, or how I would have reacted. Also, wondering how I might have reacted as an onlooker, or witness, of the author's experiences. She begins the story with her childhood and background growing up in Birmingham. It is clear that she accepts segregation as a normal part of life, and does not question the injustice of it. Her parents shelter her as much as possible from the harsher facts of life, and she has a happy, albeit strictly regulated, childhood. All of this changes when her friends die during a bombing of her Church. Initially devastated and suffering from post traumatic stress, she finds hope in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. She joins in the marches, and hope kindles all the more from the words and deeds of Kennedy. But as time passes, and nothing really changes, she finds solice in alcohol and her depression deepens. After many years, and a call to testify in the trial of one of the men who planted the bomb in her Church, she instead turns to the Church for solice. She is now working in the Ministry, and working to promote equal rights for all.

This is a very inspirational story. Mrs. McKinstry's life could have taken a much different path after the instances that took place during her youth and young adulthood. But, she chose to forgive those who committed such atrocities, and focus on promoting equality for everyone rather than bitterness toward others.

The author's story comprises much of this book. At the end, there are several pages of pictures, both of the author, and the civil rights leaders. There is also a sample from the list of Jim Crow laws. Also, a letter written and read by President Obama in 2008 about the Church bombing.

I highly recommend this book to high school student studying the civil rights era, and any adults who wish to read an inspiring story about overcoming past tragedies.
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on July 21, 2013
Carolyn was at ground zero of the civil rights movement--Alabama. Your heart will break with her accounts of the church bombing that took dear friends of hers while she was working as a Sunday School secretary. Your blood will boil as unarmed teens are attacked by police that should have been serving and protecting. Further, you will be amazed at how far she has come despite those terrible experiences.

Carolyn is an example of leaning on God and family to stay strong instead of giving in to despair or bitterness. Her stories must never be forgotten, because they are part of every American's history. We must say "never again" to the hatred that killed Carolyn's friends.
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on August 6, 2014
For most us there is September 11th. For Carolyn Maull McKinstry there was September 15, 1963 - a day that she will forever recall where she was, what she was doing, feeling, seeing - something that still today she struggles with. I've long been fascinated with the Civil War and with that comes a fascination with the Civil Rights movement even though it was mostly over before I was born, 1978. Even though most of the walk-ins, marches, and such were over by the time I was born I have witnessed racism in my own family and I've seen it in my city when the Klan had a rally on the steps of our post office. Reading Carolyn's story, her view of the day 4 of her friends were killed in the bathroom of her church - made what I learned in school (I was only told they were the only ones in the church, they weren't supposed to be there, etc, etc) which it seems was mostly lies - it came back to life in Carolyn's vivid way of writing.

That said, I did find the switching back and forth between time frames to leave me a bit confused at times - I would have liked it a bit more chronological in it's order but it was still a good read. Also the parts of speeches included from Dr. Martin Luther King and JFK made her dialogue a bit hard to follow - but this may only be the way it was formatted for Kindle - I'll have to find a print copy to compare it too. This is a book that will open your eyes to someone who was just a young girl growing up in Birmingham during the height of the Civil Rights movement and how it shaped her childhood and her adult life, even in today's time it's still affecting her.

If you enjoy reading autobiographies, historical accounts, studying the Civil Rights movement or just want to read an inspiring story of how someone overcomes the steepest of odds then While the World Watched is a great place to start. Do grab your tissues though - this was a book that I wasn't afraid to let my tears flow, the loss of the 4 young girls, the terrible way Carolyn's grandmother was treated (or not) at the end of her life in a segregated hospital will be forever imprinted upon my heart. The quote by Santayana, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" kept going through my mind - we must learn from our history, whether it's the Civil Rights movement of the South, the way the Japanese were detained in camps or the way we looked the other way when the Nazi's were first rising to power - we must learn from our mistakes, lest we repeat them.
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on October 7, 2012
This book is invaluable to every young person growing up in today's world. It made me realize how little I actually knew while I was growing up at the same time as Carolyn, the struggles too many Americans went through just to be treated as fellow human beings on the planet earth! Carolyn did not lose my attention for a minute. She wrote without malice, and with much understanding of what many go through,even in 2012, not just with racial hatred but the many things some must overcome to have a fulfilling life. God Bless you Carolyn Maull for writing this book. This should be a requirement for high school kids everywhere.
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