Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review - While the World Watched

While the World Watched
Written by:  Carolyn Maull McKinstry, with Denise George
Tyndale House Publishers
301 pages, hardcover
(A review copy was provided by Tyndale House for review purposes.  No other compensation was received.)

December 7, 1941
November 22, 1963
September 11, 2001

Most Americans my age know the significance of these dates.  They correspond to well known attacks on America - Pearl Harbor, JFK's assassination, and the attack of the Twin Towers.  But what about these dates?*:

August 28, 1955
June 12, 1963
May 2-3, 1963

These are also attack dates, but not as mainstream. However, they are all integral dates and events related to the civil rights movement, and are referenced and discussed in Carolyn Maull McKinstry's book, While the World Watched.  This is her recollection of events surrounding and shaping her life as an African-American girl born in Alabama in 1948.  There is one date in particular that sets the narrative for this story - September 15, 1963.  This is the day that a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four of McKinstry's friends and narrowly missing her.

I was vaguely familiar with this particular incident, but did not know many details.  I vaguely knew that the Ku Klux Klan had planted the bomb in a church in Birmingham, killing 4 little girls, and that this was an event that galvanized a shocked nation to FINALLY do something to end the craziness of the Jim Crow South.  But, it happened before I was born, and was not an event that I learned about in school or saw any coverage of in documentaries of the time.  That is a shame, because it is a story that needs to be told and its lessons remembered, which was one of the exact reasons McKinstry decided to finally tell her story, so that others would learn the details and understand the sacrifices made by so many.

This was a heartbreaking story of a time that I still can't wrap my mind around.  How could things like this have been allowed to continue for so long?  I still don't have many answers, but I do believe that this book paints a picture and fills in gaps that are crucial to public dialogue and understanding.  McKinstry did an amazing job of tying her personal and family story in with her church's attack, as well as with the key figures and events playing out in the area of civil rights in the world at large.  It also addressed issues of healing and forgiveness, which are relevant for anyone at any stage of life, but in particular for those who were denied acknowledgment of their personhood by those in power for so long.  I got the feeling that I was somehow being offered a glimpse into a time and place that are very personal and little spoken of for McKinstry, and it was not a position I took lightly.  It was not an easy read, but very powerful and appreciated.

*Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till is kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi (for saying "Hey, doll" to a white lady); Klan member kills Mississippi Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers (in his driveway in front of his wife and children); Children's marches in downtown Birmingham are broken up by police with attack dogs and fire hoses.

You can read the first chapter here.

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