The civil rights movement was one of the most powerful social justice movements in the history of the United States; however students and scholars of that movement do not often focus on the negative effects of segregation and racism on children of color before and during the civil-rights era. Christopher Paul Curtis’s historical novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 (1995) is unique because it deals directly with how racism traumatized youth. A beautiful yet tragic coming-of-age story, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, shows how a young boy, Kenny, is traumatized after witnessing the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. At first Kenny is unaware of the severity of the racism in Birmingham, his grandmother’s hometown, when his family journeys there to keep his older brother Byron out of trouble. He soon realizes that despite some progress toward equality, many Americans are still resistant to the concept of racial integration. Through the support of his family, Kenny overcomes his trauma and matures into a wise young man. This primary source set provides background information on race relations in Alabama during the 1960s, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, and civil rights activism in the South.
Additional resources for research
- Activism in the US online exhibition, Digital Public Library of America.
- Interactive Resource Gallery, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
- Civil Rights Digital Library.
- Project ‘C’ in Birmingham segment, Eyes on the Prize, PBS.
- “The Children Who Marched into Civil Rights History,” CBS News.