The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 1 Summary
by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 book cover
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Chapter 1 Summary

The story, narrated by ten-year-old Kenny Watson, opens on "one of those super-duper-cold Saturdays" in Flint, Michigan. The whole family—Dad, Momma, Kenny, and five-year-old Joetta—is huddled together on the sofa, trying to keep warm. Byron, who has just turned thirteen and is now "officially a teenage juvenile delinquent," is sitting there, too, but keeping himself a little bit apart from the rest of the family, trying to act "cool and bored." The thermostat is turned all the way up, and the furnace is "sounding like it [is] about to blow up," but it is still ridiculously cold in the house. Dad turns on the TV to try to make everyone forget their discomfort, but that only makes things worse: there is a special news report on television, telling how bad the weather is and how long it will last, followed by a comment by the weather man comparing conditions in Flint to those in Atlanta, Georgia, where it is currently in the mid-seventies.

Momma, who was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a mere hundred and fifty miles from Atlanta, exclaims, "I knew I should have listened to Moses Henderson!" Moses is an old boyfriend whom Momma gave up to marry Dad, and she jokingly says that she was "a young girl who made a bad choice." Dad, who loves to clown around, starts telling stories about Moses, who had been nicknamed "Hambone" because of his oddly-shaped head. The family, including Momma and even Byron, laughs uproariously. On a more serious note, Momma recalls that in Birmingham, "life is slower, the people are friendlier." When Dad reminds her that black people are not allowed to use the same facilities as white people there, she concedes that conditions are not perfect, but that on the whole, "people are more honest about the way they feel" and, in a comment directed at Byron, "folks there do know how to respect their parents."

Dad decides that it is too cold in their house to stay the night, so he calls Aunt Cydney to see if she will take them in. Aunt Cydney tells the Watsons to hurry over, and Dad goes outside to start up their dull brown 1948 Plymouth, dubbed "the Brown Bomber." He then assigns the boys to scrape the ice off the car's windows. Kenny gets right to work, but Byron dawdles, cleaning off the mirror on his side of the car and admiring himself in it. As Kenny continues scraping, he hears Byron calling him; Byron sounds funny, as if he...

(The entire section is 654 words.)