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.  McKinstry shares her recollections from that time in Birmingham, and her feelings about growing up in that turbulent time.

At times, this book feels like a walk through history.  McKinstry’s grief over the loss of her friends in far-reaching and impacts her life even today.  It is sad to think about the parents of those girls.  I feel like I got a good look into the reality of life for black people at that time in Alabama.  I learned a lot.  While reading through the book, I realized how far the US has come as a country in terms of racial equality.  We can see this in any school, any news channel, and throughout our government.  People of all different races are sitting and working together.  Reading through the list of Jim Crow laws at the back of the book made me realize how different our society is now, where everyone has the same opportunity to make something of themselves.  It is amazing how far we have come!

In the midst of feeling positive for the direction of the US, I thought about how life in Birmingham in the 60’s is similar to life in Israel now.  The Israelis face random, meaningless bombings at any time.  They, too, cope with the stress of violence and loss of loved ones in a similar way that McKinstry describes in her growing up years.

My favorite part of the book were the photographs at the end of the book.  It always makes the book more real to me if I can see actual pictures of the places the author is referring to.  I found myself studying each photograph for several moments.

Interspersed with McKinstry’s remembrances are snippets from speeches given by civil right’s leaders and JFK.  While I found the speeches interesting from a historical standpoint, reading the book as an ebook proved a little distracting.  At times it was a little difficult to see where the author’s thoughts left off and the speeches began.  For that reason, this might be a better book to get in print, instead of on a Nook or Kindle.  It seemed to skip around a little bit sequentially at times.

If you are interested in learning more about the civil right’s movement, this book is a great first-hand account of those times.  Just be warned, parts of it are very sad.

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