Birmingham, AL, Bombing Survivor to Speak at Avila University

Carolyn Maull McKinstry
Carolyn Maull McKinstry, who narrowly missed being killed by the same bombing which killed four of her friends. Photo from http://www.timesfreepress.com/.

By Amanda S. Cherry

In her book, “While the World Watched: A Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement”, Carolyn Maull McKinstry described the moments before a bomb ripped through her church in Birmingham, Alabama. “The worship service was about to begin at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963. The clock was ticking. I knew I had only a few minutes left to collect the rest of the reports and write the Sunday school summary. I was looking forward to Reverend Cross’s sermon that morning. He had posted the title on the board outside the church: ’A Love That Forgives.’ The sermon was to be based on Luke 23:34, the words Christ spoke from the cross: Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

Seconds later the bomb tore apart the church, as history remembers, killing four young, innocent women. For McKinstry, who was 15 years old at the time, it was the loss of four dear friends. It also tore apart her belief that the world was a safe place, even for a young black woman in the height of segregation and the civil rights movement. When the investigation by the FBI led to no punishment for those responsible, McKinstry kept the trauma to herself.

On the 25th anniversary of the bombing she was contacted by the media and began to tell the story of her experiences. Six years ago she sat down to write it out in her book, While the World Watched: A Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement. She made the decision to write the book after being urged by those who heard her speak at events around the world. “They kept saying to me, write the book. So the story can continue when you are gone… My one wish is that no other child would grow up the way I did.”

Avila University contacted McKinstry about presenting at their Harry S. Truman Lecture Series. “McKinstry’s book has been selected as the 2016 First Year Common Reading, where first year students will read the book and contribute to a reflections book, as part of First Year Seminar, and culminates with the lecture. Carolyn Maull McKinstry’s account is a moving exploration and testament to how race relations have evolved in our country. While the World Watched is a tribute to how far we have journeyed as a nation and how far we have yet to travel,” said a spokesman for the university.

whileworld_bookcoverThe Lecture will begin October 20th with a town hall meeting. “Peace and Civil Rights in Kansas City; Past, Present and Future” will feature several prominent members of the Kansas City community including; Alvin Brooks of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, Diane Burkholder of Kansas City Freethinkers of Color, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, Sister Rosemary Flanigan, author Miguel Morales, and Mary Sanchez columnist for the Kansas City Star. The town hall begins at 4 pm with a reception to follow. Then guest speaker McKinstry begins her presentation at 6:15 pm, ending with a book signing.

“People tell me that my story is fascinating,” McKinstry says. “What I want the students of Avila to learn isn’t that my story is fascinating, but that it all begins with us. We have to commit to making the change in ourselves. Ghandi said, be the change you wish to see. I’m a Christian, and I believe we are all made in God’s image. We need to see each other in the image of God. When we hurt each other we are hurting God.”

Past Truman lecturers have included World War II veteran, former prisoner of war and Olympian Louis Zamperini of whose life the book and film, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” is based. Other lecturers included commentator and author William F. Buckley, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. FBI Director, Clarence Kelly, and U.S. Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, among many other distinguished speakers.

The series began October 12, 1971, with a personal endorsement from the late President Harry S. Truman. At the inaugural lecture President Truman said, “I am pleased and honored that Avila [College] is establishing this lecture series. The distinguished speakers who will appear…can help bring the facts about national and world problems to the people of this community…A long life in public service has convinced me that the future of this country rests squarely on the right – and the obligation – of its citizens to…inform yourselves about the important public issues so that you can act and vote on the basis of knowledge and not prejudice.”

To learn more about this year’s Harry S. Truman Distinguished Lecture Series or to RSVP, please visit: www.avila.edu/truman.

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