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While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement Hardcover – February 1, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
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.)
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From School Library Journal
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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.
It also spends time talking about pain, depression, eventual decent into alcoholism and what would probably be described as PTSD today. That is a side that most other books don't seem to mention and I think is important to telling the whole story of the civil rights movement.
Other reviews complain about the long extended quotes of speeches, sermons, songs and other documents of the era. I think that these other documents (especially in the audiobook) give greater context.
I expected that much of the book would be about the particular day, but really the book is mostly about her life after the day. Today she is the head of the foundation that oversees the 16th Street church and she has gone to seminary and works for reconciliation. That story is as important as remembering the bombing.
Around halfway through the book I just started to feel like I couldn't keep going. I came here to Goodreads to see if other people had the same experience with the book or if I just wasn't trying hard enough. But it appears from other reviews that my complaints are pretty similar to the complaints of others. The story was very disjointed. At times I had a hard time keeping track of whether we were in the present, a flashback to a memory or even a jump ahead to some other piece of history that they wanted to reference. There were far too many quotes from other people that were stuck in to the story in weird places and made it hard for the story to flow.
Carolyn lived through more than anyone should. She is incredibly brave and I'm grateful to her for sharing her story. I just wish the editor or whoever she worked with to put the story together, had done a better job of conveying her incredibly powerful message.