It is difficult to imagine what it would have been like to grow up as an African American in the segregated South during the period of Jim Crow Laws. It is conceivable that something as simple as the color of a person’s skin could cause such anger, hatred, violence, and unrest between people. These are the circumstances that Carolyn Maull McKinstry grew up in. In her new book, While The World Watched, McKinstry tells her personal story of growing up in what was known as the most segregated city in America, Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. She writes from a personal perspective, sharing with the reader how every part of her life was affected by the horrors of segregation.
The majority of the world has only the benefit of reading about the struggle of African Americans to secure the most basic rights for themselves. McKinstry lived it. Her book begins with her early childhood describing the security she felt within her family and church life. The pivotal point of the book, and arguably her life, was the bombing of her church, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham by the Ku Klux Klan. In this bombing, McKinstry lost four of her best friends, and the naivety that people treated each other fairly. This event was her wake-up call to the hard reality that whites did not value the lives of African Americans equally.
While The World Watched is a history lesson for us all, as well as a personal memoir of someone who was part of that history. She provides excerpts of famous speeches from those on both sides of the Civil Rights Movement such as Martin Luther King Jr., Governor George Wallace, and President John F. Kennedy. A timeline of events that made up the Civil Rights Movement, vivid photographs, and a sample of the Jim Crow Laws provide the reader with a better perspective of the sin and struggles of segregation. I believe this book is a must read, as some of the feelings of Civil Rights Movement still exist today. This book will sadden you, encourage you, anger you, and challenge you in ways you don’t expect. While The World Watched is very well written and definitely worth your time.