Personal story of Civil Rights Movement captures Confluence students
Personal story of Civil Rights Movement captures Confluence students
Posted on 03/25/2013
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C McKinstryLearning about the Civil Rights Movement has a greater impact when you hear someone’s personal story.


Seventh and eighth grade students of Confluence Charter Schools experienced a significant moment from the movement through the voice of Carolyn Maull McKinstry. She spoke to nearly 500 students in the gym at Confluence Preparatory Academy on March 14.


McKinstry was at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. when it was bombed on September 15, 1963. Four young girls lost their lives in the bombing – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley. Another girl, Sarah Collins, the sister of Addie Mae, survived the bombing but suffered serious injuries. The girls were McKinstry’s friends.


McKinstry began by reading an ordinance from a booklet of segregation laws that existed in Alabama. She gave examples of segregation that students could understand, such as using separate water fountains, going to separate schools, entering restaurants through a back door, not being allowed to try on clothes at a store and sitting in the back of the bus.


She talked about non-violence and emphasized “preserving the integrity of the movement.” It was important that children, teens and adults who were involved in the movement understood the purpose of non-violence. They could not react to violence with aggression or more violence. If they did, they could not be part of the movement.


McKinstry told the story of the first time she saw and heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at her church. The church was filled with young people. King and other civil rights leaders spoke about non-violence and plans for a march. It was the first time McKinstry joined a march. She was sprayed with fire hoses. The force of the water against her head was so strong that she lost some of her hair.


Before she talked about the church bombing, she said it was “very personal” and still difficult.


It was Youth Day at her church. She and her friends were excited to be a part of the service. McKinstry also worked in the church office. She was collecting reports from Sunday school classes when the bombing happened. It was 10:22 a.m. She talked about her fears, her feelings and how she could not find her younger brothers who were with her at church that morning. The next day, she went to school. Back then, she said, “we didn’t talk about it.” It seemed like we “pretended that it didn’t happen.”

Photo McKinstry

Rev. Carolyn McKinstry answers questions from students during a presentation at Confluence Preparatory Academy.  

The students had questions for McKinstry, such as ‘What happened to your brothers?’ ‘When the bomb exploded, how did you feel? ‘Did you go to jail?’ ‘How did your life change?’ They asked about her family, her life and more.


When time ran out, the students were disappointed that McKinstry couldn’t take any more questions. They gave her a standing ovation as a thank you.


“The children enjoyed the presentation. They have talked of nothing else since their return,” said Mary Davis, interim principal at Confluence Academy-Walnut Park. “We appreciated the opportunity to hear her.”


“The experience was powerful for our students,” said Stanley Johnson, in-school suspension teacher at Confluence Academy-Old North.


McKinstry, a native of Birmingham, is now an associate minister. She is an active volunteer with many community activities and organizations, and has held leadership roles with several organizations. She spends time speaking to young people, educators and institutions about her experiences. Her memoir, “While the World Watched,” details her life growing up in Birmingham, lessons she has learned and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.


She is featured in an upcoming documentary, “March to Justice.”

Note: McKinstry was interviewed by St. Louis Public Radio after her visit. To listen to the interview, click here.