The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, a novel by Christopher Paul Curtis takes place at a time when Birmingham, Alabama was very violent. In the novel, the Watson family leaves their home in Flint, Michigan, and visits their grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. Their goal is to leave their older son, Byron, in Birmingham so that he can improve his behavior. However, while they are in Birmingham, they witness the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. This was a real event that sadly killed four African-American girls.
These events could likely not take place today, nor would anyone want them to. In 1963, the Civil Rights Movement launched a campaign to desegregate Birmingham, considered then to be one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. The movement used sit-ins, boycotts, and marches in an attempt to desegregate the city, and movement leaders recruited high school, college, and younger students to march in the campaign. Many African-American children were subjected to violence, as they were arrested and attacked with fire hoses and dogs. Images from this campaign were broadcast around the world and helped turn public opinion against segregation. All of these events form the backdrop of the part of The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 that takes place in the south, and they explain why the Watsons are on edge while they are in Birmingham and why they return with Byron and their other children to Michigan.