Carolyn McKinstry: (Singing) “I want Jesus to walk with me. All along this tedious journey, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.”
End of Teaser
John Fuller: That’s Carolyn McKinstry and she’s singing a portion of a song that brought comfort to her back in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And today here in the U.S., as our nation pauses to commemorate his life, we’ll talk with Carolyn, who was right in the middle of the racial tension in Birmingham, Alabama. This is “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and before we hear this incredible testimony, there’s a crucial pro-life issue expected to come up for a vote in the House this week and we want to shine a light on it quickly here.
Drop-In: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (U.S. Only)
Jim Daly: John, this is Sanctity of Human Life Week and this Thursday, the U-S House of Representatives is expected to vote on a really important bill and it’s critical that your representative hear from you as you urge him or her to vote for life. It’s HR Bill 36 and it’s to protect the unborn child. In fact, Congressman Trent Franks from Arizona is one of the core sponsors of this bill and he’s on the phone with us. Welcome to the program, Congressman.
Congressman Franks: Well, thank you all. I can’t express to you the magnitude of respect and gratitude I have for Focus on the Family through the years.
Jim: Tell me quickly, we only have a second here, what motivated you to do this? What’s happening that we need to know about?
Congressman Franks: Well, this is probably one of the most significant opportunities we have ever had to show the humanity of the victim of abortion and inhumanity of what’s being done to them. The Pain-Capable Bill represents the first time in history, if we succeed on this bill, that we will have given affirmative protection to the unborn child in the United States Congress.
Jim: Congressman Franks, the other aspect is, it’d be great if both Republicans and Democrats understood the need to protect innocent life and that’s what you’re talking about and I so appreciate your heart, the heart of your colleagues there in the House and the Senate. That vote will be coming not long from now, as well.
This is simply your desire to protect the pre-born child, to limit abortion beyond 20 weeks. And we are for you, because we’re for life. And I hope people in the House and the next step, the Senate will vote for it.
Congressman Franks: Right, and this would …it would refocus America’s attention. Because whenever America, through the history of our country, has discovered the humanity of a particular victim and the inhumanity of what’s being done to them, their hearts change. And I think that this could precipitate another major change in our country in that vein. And again, it’s impossible for me to emphasize the judicial and the long-term political, and ultimately, the long-term protection that this means for the unborn child and their mothers.
Jim: And let me add the spiritual well-being of this nation. Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona, let me say thank you. Thank you for what you do, your colleagues are doing and let me urge everyone to contact your representative, to urge them to vote for this bill. And again, thank you very much.
Congressman Franks: Thank you all so much.
John: You’ll find all the details about how to urge your Congressman to support HR 36 at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And Jim, as we said earlier, we have a very special program to share today about an incredibly difficult time in our nation’s history.
End of Drop-In: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (U.S. Only)
Jim: We do, John and for almost 50 years, Carolyn McKinstry found it difficult to talk about those experiences, but she has written a book called While the World Watched. And we want to explore that experience through her eyes and what happened to her in Birmingham, in the ’60s, as she was right there, as you said. She participated in the Civil Rights marches in downtown Birmingham. She was encouraged by her parents and many others in the black community to forget what happened. And you know what? She’s ready to talk and I want to listen.
John: Well, one of the reasons that we’re especially pleased to have Carolyn here, Jim, is because this is a sanctity of human life issue, isn’t it?
Jim: It is, John. We gotta tie all these things together. I mean, what is wonderful is, that we are created in God’s image, all of us and we have got to recognize that, particularly we Christians. We need to recognize that. We need to look at the past. We need to understand those atrocities, the evil that was done, not just in the area of racial tension, but in many areas. And we’ve got to lead the way. I think God’s people should lead the way and again, that’s why I’m excited to talk to Carolyn today. Carolyn, let me welcome you to “Focus on the Family.”
Carolyn: Thank you so much. I’m very honored to have received your invitation and just delighted to be in your city and thank you.
Jim: You are a daughter of Birmingham, if I could say it that way and paint the picture for us, because again, I was born in 1961, so I’m just a little younger than you. You were what age roughly in the ’60s? You were a little girl, 8, 9, 10?
Carolyn: Well, you know, I was born in 1948, so in 1960, I was 12-years-old and 1963, I was 15-years-old.
Jim: Can we be bold enough today, can you help us better understand what it was like being in Birmingham, in the South? And there are many good people in Birmingham.
Jim: We’re gonna talk about a time when things were tough and there was incredible tension when it came to the racial issue. And you know, people were not treated properly and it was horrific and I hope that we are moving in a better direction and we’ll talk more about that later. But paint that picture for us. What was it like being a 12-year-old girl in Birmingham, African-American? What does that look like?
Carolyn: I think I can sum it up with this sentence. Every aspect of life for me in Birmingham was segregated. Every aspect of social life, of public life was segregated.
Jim: Help me feel that. What did that look like for you?
Carolyn: Okay. My first two introductions to segregation were the things that really allowed me to feel and to know what you’re asking. The first introduction to segregation came when my grandfather brought my grandmother to Birmingham. I was 10-years-old. My grandmother was 54-years-old, but the hospitals in Birmingham not only were segregated; there was no hospital for black people.
Jim: And she was sick.
Carolyn: And she was very ill. She was a first-grade teacher. She was very ill and my mom and father were able to convince the doctors to admit her to the hospital, but they placed her in the basement of the hospital.
And I remember the basement so well, because my mom said, “We have to work, but we don’t want to leave your grandmother here alone every day,” so being the only girl at that time in the family with four brothers, I became the nurse for my grandmother in the basement of that hospital. Doctors would come in periodically and check her. They would pull a little white screen in front of her. But after two weeks, my grandmother died. What I did as a 10-year-old, I studied the roof, the pipes, the floor.
Jim: She’s in the basement.
Carolyn: She’s in the basement and so, I just study my surroundings for two weeks, two long weeks. I mean, if you can imagine a 10-year-old. But we were often given responsibilities beyond our years then.
Now if I could fast forward for a second, I would eventually go back to that same hospital. It’s still open today and serve as chaplain for that hospital for over a year, so that I could set the type of example that I thought should’ve been set in 1958.
Jim: I need to make sure I’m seeing that picture correctly, because what you’re saying is, she wasn’t in a proper room. It was in the basement of this hospital. There were dripping pipes right near her bed. Walls were unfinished, ceiling was unfinished. It wasn’t a room; it was the basement of the hospital—
Jim: –as we would think of it, a functional basement with the boilers and everything else going on–
Jim: –because that’s where black people were hospitalized. They weren’t put in the rooms upstairs.
Carolyn: Those that were admitted, were admitted to the basement, yes.
Jim: Talk about the other aspects, again, of that segregation, because “segregation” is a word that sounds so clinical; it means we separate. I want to feel it through your eyes what it was to be that 12-year-old girl—
Jim: –who couldn’t go to the amusement park in Birmingham, who couldn’t eat in certain restaurants. Emotionally what did that feel like for you to be hurt in that way, to feel less than fully human maybe?
Carolyn: You know, it was a really curious feeling. I think the big question in my mind was always, why? Why could we not use the Birmingham Public Library, for example? There was a bookmobile that came to our school every two weeks and we would go out and check books from the bookmobile.
When we shopped, we could not try on the clothes. We could not eat in the restaurant of that store. We could not work there. The only thing we could do was just to purchase items if you found something you could use, to purchase those items and leave.
You know, I mentioned that there were two things that introduced me in a very personal way to segregation. The second thing was when I had the honor of winning the Alabama state spelling competition.
Jim: How old were you then?
Carolyn: I was 12-years-old.
Carolyn: I had competed in the city-wide competition, which was over 100 schools around the state. I had competed in, then the county-wide competition and it was narrowed down to about, I think about 10 of us. And I became our state champion speller. But once again, I could not go to the national competition in Washington, D.C. I know you’re familiar with that today. We see it on television, but the rules… same rules applied. Black children were not permitted to be part of the national spelling competition.
Jim: You couldn’t represent the state.
Carolyn: I could not represent the state, no.
Jim: That is again, you know, for those of us that were maybe too young or maybe not born yet, to think of that. It seems foreign. It seems like how could that be? ‘Cause we haven’t seen it and felt it the way you have. Can I ask you about your mom and dad? I mean, I can’t imagine being a mom and dad in this environment. I mean, all of us as human beings, as I traveled internationally, we all have those similar characteristics as moms and dads. We want our kids to do well. We want to protect our kids. We want to be there for our kids. We want to provide for our kids. What was it like for your mom and dad when you think back on it, for them to try to protect you in this environment? How did they explain what was going on for you?
Carolyn: You know, they did not explain. As a matter of fact, we did not discuss anything in our house as it pertained to race or bombings or the various things that you would hear around Birmingham. As a matter of fact, they were careful to excuse us from the room when certain topics of conversation came up. So, it just was not something that was discussed.
I often say that I consider it a gift, the fact that this was not a discussion in our home. I think sometimes when we paint too much of a picture of something that is negative, it becomes an imaginary glass ceiling if you will. Parents are the first molders and shapers of who their children are. And we love our parents. We trust them. We believe them.
So, if my mother had said to me, “You can never do this,” or “You can never be this,” I’m probably going to believe a lot of what she is saying. But in our house there was never a discussion of hatred. My grandfather was a preacher. He pastored two churches and we didn’t discuss race, period.
My father never said, “You can’t do this because of him” or because of a system. And he set his own expectations for what he wanted from us. And the only excuse for not doing what my father asked was, if you just weren’t breathing anymore.
Jim: Let me ask you this to turn that page.
Jim: You’re at the Birmingham church, the 16th Street Baptist Church. Some special things happened at that church, not all good, but also some profound things. Martin Luther King visited. How old were you when you heard Martin Luther King?
Carolyn: The first time I heard Dr. King I was 14-years-old. One of the things that I did was to volunteer a lot at the church. It was my way of, I guess, staying out of trouble. But I loved this church because it was huge; it always had visitors. It had its own history long before it was bombed.
People came; let me say notable black people came from all over the country. This was the very first black church built in Birmingham, Alabama. We said in the 1960’s that it would seat approximately 2,000 people. Today we say approximately 1,600. So, this is just to give you a few facts about it.
It was built by people who were less than 50 years out of slavery at a cost of $36,000. They walked in with that church paid for. Yeah, so it had its own history.
Jim: And a point of pride.
Carolyn: It [was] a point of pride and most of the members were blacks who had been to college, who had your better jobs in Birmingham, as teachers or nurses. And I would say the first seven or eight pastors all had earned doctorates. So, they were leaders for the community. Many of them wrote financial books. There were a lot of things that they did to really try to move the community forward.
What I enjoyed as a child was numerous programs. They would always put us up front and put us in charge. So, it was an opportunity to learn, to be comfortable around people, to learn to speak. They made us feel important. I felt very important in this church. I became our Sunday school secretary in the 7th grade.
Jim: So, it was a focal point for the community.
Carolyn: It was; it was.
Jim: And in that regard, I mean, did that difference with what you read in Scripture and the way Christians should behave and the way you were seeing it unfold in your community, did you as a Christian, as a believer, did you say, okay, Lord, what is happening here? How can I as a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old girl begin to understand the disconnect that I see? I see this in Scripture, but I see this in reality. Do You care about me? Do You care about us?
Carolyn: I struggled with this quite a bit, but my struggle was very personal from the standpoint of to simplify this as a 14-year-old, the problem seemed to be that I was brown. The problem seemed to be that anyone who was brown, there just was a dislike for that person.
And you know, initially I was trying to understand what can I do about this? What am I supposed to do? As a child–and remember, we’re talking 50 years ago when we didn’t have the age of the Internet; we were not quite as learned and bright as we might be today–but as a child, I knew there were lots and lots of brown people all over the world. So what are we supposed to do? How do we fix the problem, was what I really struggled with?
Now today, there’s a tremendous amount of naiveté associated with that. But I was deeply troubled and I think that the trouble really intensified as the bombings became more prevalent around Birmingham.
Jim: Well, and let’s move into that. So, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes and speaks at the church. A lot of children and teenagers begin to rally. That’s the first time I guess I’ve ever understood who was really responding to his powerful message. But you said in your book, a lot of children and teenagers were the ones responding.
Jim: Talk about why.
Carolyn: Well, there are a lot of good reasons that young people responded, but we have to say that Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth invited Dr. King to Birmingham. Rev. Shuttlesworth had waged his own war, so to speak in trying to make integration effective in Birmingham. And he had not succeeded, so he invited Dr. King, because he felt that the national recognition from Dr. King would bring people on board.
Now I think it’s important to say that in 1954, we had the Brown v. Board of Education decision. So, in 1963, we were almost 10 years past that decision. But Birmingham had said, you know what? It’s just not going to happen in Birmingham.
So, after all of this struggle and no success, Rev. Shuttlesworth invited Dr. King by letter and Dr. King came. Now Dr. King appointed what he called perhaps a youth advisor or something in the form of James Bevel was really the one that began to send the communications out via radio, via the various leadership positions in the high schools. If you were in the band, if you were a member of the student council and this was in the black schools–
Carolyn: –if you were in those schools, you began to hear rumblings about, we’re going to come together to talk about how we can help Birmingham be the place it’s called to be, to end segregation. So, really the rallying call came from James Bevel.
But now, Rev. Shuttlesworth tells this story. I spent about 12 years with him before he died and he tells the story that on the night before the very first march, that he and Dr. King were sitting in their hotel room and they were sort of having a discussion about, do we really want children to be involved? Children can get hurt. They’ll blame us. You know, there was this discussion and he said there really was no decision between the two of them.
Jim: They just talked about it.
Carolyn: They just talked about it. But the very next day, the children who had begun to hear the rumblings, that had gotten these messages and the messages were passed all around Birmingham in various ways, the very next day, the children just began to come out of the schools.
And I can tell you at the school that I attended—Parker High School—someone showed up with a big poster board sign, and all it said was, “It’s time.” But I knew what “It’s time” meant, because one, I’m a member of 16th Street. But for the others, they had heard it in one fashion or another. And so, students began to just come from all over Birmingham.
Well, why did they come? How was he able to convince them? When we had the first meeting at 16th Street Baptist Church, Dr. King talked about segregation. He also talked about what it would mean if those laws were dismantled.
On a very personal level and on a very elementary level, dismantling segregation might mean that I could go to the library, that I could go to Kiddieland, or to the zoo, that if we went shopping, we could try on the clothes. They were actually very small things that we were looking at as children. We could get on the bus, and we could sit wherever we wanted to sit on the bus.
If you think about it, those are really small things to ask for. But you know, these were children. These were young people. The historical records tell us that all of the children that marched ranged from … started at ages 8-years-old. Now there were people that were much older than that, but the majority of them were teens, as you said from the Birmingham area.
Jim: And you were one of them.
Carolyn: I was one those teens, yeah.
Jim: You actually marched.
Jim: Talk about that moment when the time comes, the placard, as you said, is out in front of the high school, “It’s time.”
Carolyn: It’s time.
Jim: What happened to you as you marched peacefully for the basic rights as you described them? What happened?
Carolyn: What happens next, we began a march toward Kelly Ingram Park. We were stopped. The policeman ordered the marchers to disperse. One of the policemen asked what was the purpose of the march? And someone said, “Everyone knows the purpose of this march. We’re marching for freedom.” It was not an elaborate conversation, but just that we’re marching for freedom.
So, the policeman said, “Well, you are hereby ordered to disperse.” And after a point, everyone just sort of went their different ways. But the destination point was the same, which was the church, the vicinity of Kelly Ingram Park, which is across the street from the church. So, as children folded in that direction and began to come into the church, those that did not go into the church, that went directly into the streets or the park area were met by the policemen and the firemen with the water hoses.
Jim: Dogs, policemen.
Carolyn: Dogs, police dogs, yes.
Jim: And what was unleashed on the group? What happened?
Carolyn: Well, much to our surprise and I do want to say that when they had that first meeting at the church, we were warned about things that might happen. But what we were told was that policemen might hit you. They might have billy clubs. They might have police dogs. The only appropriate response was no response. It became very important for us to know that this was a non-violent movement. And if you could not be non-violent, if you searched yourself and felt that you could not be non-violent, then they were asking you to step aside.
So, we had at our young ages, made a commitment that we would not be violent, that we would absorb whatever the policemen brought. So, when we came to that park area, the first thing that I remember thinking as they came out with these water hoses, they warned us about the things that we might encounter, but no one said anything about water hoses. So, I was a bit puzzled by the water hoses, but then I was a little bit upset and angry, ’cause water hoses make you wet. (Laughter) And that wasn’t a good feeling.
Jim: And it’s forceful.
Carolyn: It’s forceful.
Jim: I mean, it could break a bone—
Carolyn: It had …
Jim: –even, can’t it?
Carolyn: Yeah, it hurts. It’s very painful.
Jim: It’s 100 pounds of pressure comin’ at you, but children were bitten by the dogs.
Carolyn: Children were bitten by the dogs.
Jim: The fire hoses were—
Jim: –doing its damage. Where did you go from there then? Were you arrested or what happened?
Carolyn: I was not arrested. Most of us ran. We looked for security and we ended up in the basement of the church. But as we were in the basement of the church, there were hundreds of students upstairs in the sanctuary of the church waiting to be told or to be called. And over a period of days, this is what they did. They just gathered in the church and that day was replicated—the students showing up, staying in the church, being brought out 50 at a time, was replicated over a period of several weeks.
Jim: Carolyn, this has been amazing to hear it and to feel it, but we haven’t really talked about the bombing at the church and we are out of time today. But I want to come back next time and talk about what you experienced as that little girl with your friends being killed in the bombing at the church. Can you stay with us and come back next time?
Carolyn: I would be honored, delighted to come back.
Jim: Let’s do that.
John: What a gripping story we’ve had for you today and we’re just getting started and I do hope you can be with us tomorrow for the continuation of the conversation with Carolyn. This is quite a way for us to begin our observation of the Sanctity of Human Life Week. And you’ll want to follow up, if you can’t be with us tomorrow, listen online or on our mobile app. Get the CD and hear more of what Carolyn experienced in the 1960’s.
You can also order her book called While the World Watched and let me just urge you to get a copy of this and read it with your children. Help them understand some of the struggles that so many experienced during the ’60’s. In fact, some schools have made this book a part of their required reading. Call us today and ask for a copy of While the World Watched. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY: 800-232-6459 or you can find details about it at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And by the way, when you make a generous contribution of any amount to Focus on the Family, we’ll send that book to you. It’s our way of saying thank you for standing with us and enabling us to continue on in our mission.
Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back next time for more inspiration from Carolyn McKinstry, to help you and your family thrive.