September 15, 1963, was a normal Sunday morning in Birmingham, Alabama.
Until 10:22 A.M.
Then everything changed.
Carolyn, a teenager at the time, was making her prescribed rounds through her church, retrieving paperwork from each of the Sunday school classes. On her way up the stairs, she smiled and said good morning to four young girls – Cynthia, Addie, Denise, and Carole – who were headed into the bathroom.
As Carolyn passed the church office, she heard a phone ringing. No one was around, so she answered the call. A male voice muttered, “Three minutes,” and hung up.
Carolyn had no idea what that cryptic message was supposed to mean. She hung up the phone and continued toward the sanctuary. Moments later, an explosion ripped through the church, shattering glass and splintering walls. The concussion knocked her to the floor, leaving her confused and disoriented. It took her several minutes to crawl through the smoke and terrified screams to safety outside. Carolyn made it out alive, but Cynthia, Addie, Denise, and Carole – the four young girls in the bathroom – were killed.
More than 50 years later, our guest on today’s broadcast, Carolyn McKinstry, still remembers every moment of that day. The now-infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is seen by many as a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. But in many ways it was a turning point in Carolyn’s life as well.
Most of us have only observed racial strife from a safe distance – say, through news reports. But we haven’t encountered it firsthand and can’t fully understand the plight of those who have suffered from racial prejudice. Carolyn speaks from a unique perspective that she’ll share with us over the next three programs titled, “Birmingham and Beyond: Racial Tensions in America.”
She had a front row seat to history. Not only did she survive the attack on the church, she also remembers when the homes of more than 80 friends and neighbors in the black community were bombed. In addition, she participated in the Birmingham “Children’s Crusade,” a peaceful demonstration of hundreds of teenagers who were confronted by police armed with billy clubs, attack dogs, and powerful water hoses.
It was a time of historic changes, but it took its toll on Carolyn. The pain and resentment grew deep as she struggled to understand why God would allow her and those she knew to suffer so greatly. Even the hope offered by Dr. Martin Luther King himself wasn’t enough for Carolyn to find peace. That only came after years of personal turmoil and discovering life’s true hope offered through Jesus Christ.
I hope you’ll tune in to hear Carolyn’s story on your local radio station. Or listen any time online or via our free, downloadable mobile phone app.