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The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

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Why did Christopher Paul Curtis include the real-life bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in his mostly fictional book?

Quick answer:

Christopher Paul Curtis chose to include the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in a book that is mostly fictional because he wanted to give his readers some idea of the very real consequences of the racial prejudice and hatred dealt with at length in The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963.

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Christopher Paul Curtis dedicates The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963 to the four girls killed in the bomb attack by white supremacists on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. Although the book is mainly a work of fiction, Curtis nonetheless incorporates this very real event into the narrative, an event that gives us an insight into how people react to extreme situations.

By doing so, Curtis makes history come alive much more vividly than many history books would. The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church brings home the very real consequences of the bigotry, oppression, and racial injustice that are dealt with at length throughout the book.

The murder of four children illustrates in the starkest possible terms the consequences of racial hatred and prejudice. In that sense, Curtis's decision to include the bombing in the book serves a useful didactic purpose. That is to say, it teaches readers, especially its intended young adult audience, to understand just what can happen when racism becomes widespread in society.

Many young adult readers will undoubtedly have put themselves in the shoes of those parishioners their age who attended the church on that terrible day. They will have thought long and hard about how they would've reacted in such circumstances.

Hopefully, they will also have developed a deep revulsion to this act of terrorism and many others like them, as well as to the racial hatred and warped thinking that lead to them.

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