illustrated close-up of Kenny Watson with fire in the background behind him

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

Start Free Trial

What caused Joetta to leave the church early in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963?

Quick answer:

Joetta leaves the church early in The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 because it is too hot. She then sees what she thinks is Kenny waving at her to follow him down the street. However, Kenny is back home when this happens. This leaves the reader to wonder who or what Joetta actually saw.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Joetta leaves the church early because of the stifling heat. And thank goodness that she did, because otherwise she would've been caught up in the bomb blast that happened not long afterwards. After Joetta leaves the church she goes outside to the porch, where she sees what appears to be Kenny beckoning towards her. She instinctively runs towards him, yet Kenny—if that indeed is who it is—outruns her, no matter how fast Joetta runs.

As Joetta approaches her grandmother's house, a bomb goes off at the church. The bomb had been placed there by white supremacists, and a number of people, including children, have been killed by the blast. Had Joetta not left the church when she did, it's likely that she too would've been killed. For now, though, Joetta's blissfully unaware of what's happened. It's only when she gets to Grandma Sands's house that she gets the full picture.

But she's still confused. Seeing Kenny, she doesn't know how he could've gotten there so much later than she did. She also doesn't understand why he seems to be wearing different clothes from when she saw him outside the church. For his part, Kenny's just mightily relieved that his sister wasn't killed in the bomb blast. He thinks perhaps that instead of seeing him outside the church, Joetta actually saw her guardian angel.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Joetta steps out of the church onto the porch before Sunday School ends because she feels hot. She leaves the area because a vision of Kenny—which she thinks is actually her brother—beckons to her. She chases him down the street, but he keeps running faster and will not let her catch him. While she is walking back to their grandmother’s house, the church is bombed, but she is completely unaware of what has happened.

When Joetta arrives at Grandma Sands’s house, she is initially confused. She wonders how Kenny got back so much faster than she did and why he is wearing different clothes than when she saw him. In turn, he believes that she must be a ghost. He had gone to the bombed church and, upon seeing the horrible destruction, had assumed that his sister was dead. Kenny believes that the “Wool Pooh,” the creature he saw when he almost drowned, has taken her. She, in turn, cannot accept that it was not really her brother that she saw outside the church.

Frustrated, Joetta thinks that he is cruelly teasing her. When she runs off screaming for their mother, he finally realizes that she is alive—the Wool Pooh had not taken her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On the fateful Sunday of the bombing, Joetta is at the church for Sunday school. Kenny decides not to go to church, explaining that he woke up too late. In truth, he is still shaken up from the incident at Collier's Landing. He notes how hot the morning is already. It is this heat that likely saves Joetta's life.

When word spreads that the church has been bombed, the whole community flocks there in a panic, including Kenny. After surveying the damage and coming to the conclusion that his sister must be among the victims, Kenny returns home in a state of shock. As he despairs that he had not properly said goodbye to his sister or thanked her for saving him at Collier's Landing, Joetta comes into his room.

Joetta does not seem to be aware of what happened at the church. Kenny asks her where she has been. This is when she tells him that it was too hot to stay in the church. Instead, she left and went to the porch. She claims she saw Kenny waving to her and laughing and running down the street and she left to chase after him. Joetta remarks that he was wearing different clothes. Kenny is confused. He does not know what Joetta is talking about.

This is a strange occurrence. Joetta claims that it was Kenny that lured her away from the church. However, Kenny wasn't there. Byron explains that it must have been a part of Kenny that was there to save his sister. Kenny concludes that it must have been an angel.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In chapter 14 of The Watsons Go To Birmingham, being too hot at church protects Joetta from the bomb. Since the novel is told to us from Kenny's point of view, he tells us about that Sunday and its events. He tells the reader that he knows it was a Sunday, because he saw Joey getting ready for church and remembers her dress, lacy socks, and shiny black shoes. That morning he is taking a nap in the backyard when the noise wakes him. Kenny hears from Byron that someone dropped a bomb on the church, so he runs to the church to see what happened. Once he arrives there, he sees the chaos and people everywhere. In horror, he sees a shiny black shoe just like the one she was wearing that morning. He believes the worst: that she is a victim of the bomb.

Kenny goes home and tries to remember how he treated her that morning. He doesn't believe it when he looks up and sees that Joey is alive. Once he realizes that she is alive, he explains what happened, and she explains that she had to leave the church early because she was too hot. She tells Kenny, “It was so hot in there that I went and stood on the porch and saw you."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial