Friday, July 18, 2014

While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry

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.

While the World Watched is a compelling story of how the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing affected and shaped one girl and how she viewed the world. The majority of the book described the events that occurred both in the South and in Carolyn's experiences before and after the bombing. I was really moved by how racial prejudices hindered Carolyn's early life, even when she was not actually aware that they existed. I was shamed to see how cruelly whites of all ages, both male and female, treated their black neighbors, especially in the case of the children. I was shocked by the suffering and trauma inflicted on the members of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the bombing, particularly the young children like Carolyn and her brothers. And since violence was a regular occurrence for that community, Carolyn's family and her community never discussed what occurred or worked through the emotions the bombing incited. As a result, it took Carolyn years, many unhealthy choices, and finally God's hand at work before Carolyn even realized that she was bitter, depressed, and grief-stricken as a result of the bombing. I found Carolyn's redemption story to be convicting and moving, especially as she struggled to forgive those who were responsible for the bombings, something she could only do through a relationship with God.

Another aspect of While the World Watched that I found very interesting was the quotes from the Bible, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders of the time that were interspersed throughout the pages. They were well placed and picked to go along with the topics of the chapters, and they gave a broader and more thorough picture to what was going on at the time. I also enjoyed learning more about this particular time in the Civil Rights movement and how it transpired in Birmingham Al., especially from the firsthand perspective of Carolyn who was involved in the thick of things. However, at the same time I was saddened by the cruel and prejudiced treatment towards Carolyn and her friends that existed both when she was a child and even when she was older.
Overall, I found While the World Watched to be a very moving and compelling read that gave me a fuller picture of what happened in Birmingham, how the bombings affected those involved, and how God can redeem any situation and person.

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