The dynamite bomb that killed four young girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 went off during Sunday services. 14 year old Carolyn McKinstry survived. On the bus, Utah State Student Mo Vance set the scene for our visit to Birmingham. Carolyn McKinstry met us at the church to talk about her life since the bombings.
Carolyn McKinstry was secretary of her Sunday school class in 1963. She too was just 14. She had been chatting with her four friends as she carried attendance records to the church office. The next moment, the bomb cratered the bathroom and blew up the back of the church, a center of civil rights activism and training. White racists targeted the Church for its leadership. Back then Birmingham was known as "Bombingham" with 21 explosions on black properties and churches between 1955 and 1963.
McKinstry had already faced the snarling dogs and the water hoses as a participant in the 1963 non-violent Birmingham Children's Crusade. Thousands of students boycotted classes in order to push the city into integrating the schools. Authorities responded with violence.
During our visit, we talked and sang with McKinstry in the Church. She also walked our group across the street and through Kelly Ingram park. The city park was a staging area for many of the massive protests of civil rights era. It was rededicated as " a place of revolution and reconciliation" in 1992. Traditional sculptures to civil era leaders and foot soldiers are on display. At the corner, across from the church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a memorial to the four murdered girls. There are also replicas of the water cannons Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor ordered his police to use to attack the demonstrators. Perhaps most disturbing is the narrow walkway flanked by metal walls. Sculptures of lunging German Shephards leap out at head height.
Carolyn McKinstry is still a member of the now federally landmarked 16th Street Baptist Church. She holds a master of divinity from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. She is author of "While The World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age During the Civil Rights Movement."