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

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

by Christopher Paul Curtis

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What did Kenny bring out of church and what did a boy at the Landing do in Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963?

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The boy at Collier's Landing, "Miss Thomas's little boy Jimmy", got caught up in a kind of whirlpool there in the water and drowned (Chapter 13). 

Kenny brings out the tattered shoe of a little girl hurt or killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church after it was firebombed in 1963 (Chapter 14).

While visiting his Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama, Kenny is almost killed when he disregards her warning to stay away from Collier's Landing.  Although the water there is cool and clear, there is a steep drop-off, and a whirlpool which can quickly draw a young swimmer under.  Grandma tells Kenny about a boy who had drowned there two years before, and there is a warning sign posted at the Landing as well, but still, Kenny chooses to go into the water, and would have drowned except for the heroics of his brother Byron, who saves him.  A few days after this incident, the church where Kenny's little sister Joetta attends Sunday School is bombed by white men driven by hatred for their black neighbors.  Byron, who has been walking around in a haze after the trauma of almost drowning, wanders into the church in the immediate aftermath of the conflagration, and sees "a shiny, shiny black shoe lying halfway underneath some concrete".  The shoe is similar to the ones Joetta wears, and Kenny, thinking his sister is dead, grabs the shoe and tugs at it until it pops loose from "a frilly white sock".  Panicked, he puts the shoe in his pocket and runs home (Chapter 14).

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