Study Guide

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963

  • The next Sunday morning, Kenny and Dad are sitting in the car listening to records while everyone else is still asleep.
  • Kenny asks Dad if they really have to leave Byron in Alabama. Hang on, Kenny, weren't you the one excited about this?
  • Dad explains that Byron is learning all the wrong things in Flint, and he needs to live somewhere else in order to learn the right things. Kenny doesn't get it.
  • Dad asks Kenny if he's seen on the news some of what's been going on in the South. Kenny has seen some pictures of the riots and protests over the Civil Rights Movement, but he doesn't really understand it.
  • Dad explains that the world is a tough place, especially for African Americans, and Byron needs to be ready for it. He needs to stop fooling around and grow up. Dad says Byron needs to see this tough world for himself, and that's why he has to spend the summer in Alabama.
  • Kenny starts thinking about how hard it must be to be a grownup. He tells Dad that being a grownup seems real scary and he doesn't think he'll ever learn how to do it.
  • Dad says being a grownup is scary at first, but with some practice it gets a little easier. He confesses that he and Momma don't always know for sure if they're doing the right thing either.
  • Preparations for the trip continue, and one day, their neighbor, Mrs. Davidson, comes over to give Joey a going-away present.
  • It's an angel—Mrs. Davidson says it reminds her of Joey.
  • The trouble is, it's a chubby white angel with blue eyes. The only thing that resembles Joey is the dimple in her smile.
  • Joey looks upset for a second, but she covers well and politely thanks Mrs. Davidson.
  • Then she goes upstairs and puts the angel in her sock drawer.
  • When Momma goes up to check on her, Joey explains about the angel not looking anything like her. Joey seems upset that Mrs. Davidson would say a white angel looks like her when she isn't white.
  • Everyone is packing and getting ready for the trip, except for Byron.
  • Byron is behaving as though nothing is going on. He's playing it cool.
  • That's because he has a plan to sneak out and make a run for it the night before they leave. (Though, where does he think he would go?)
  • Joey rats him out so that Momma and Dad won't kill him for running away. They make Byron sleep in their room for the last night.
  • The next morning, they get up early and get on I-75 which will take them all the way from Flint to Birmingham.
  • In the car, Momma reads her three-day trip plan out of her notebook. She has figured out everything from where they'll stop to what they'll eat to who will sit next to the windows each day of the drive.
  • Kenny asks why they don't just drive until Dad is tired and then stop. Yeah, why not do that? Maybe they can make it in less than three days, right?
  • Dad gets into his Southern hillbilly accent and explains that down in the Deep South, black folks can't just stop anywhere. He makes a joke out of it for the kids, but this all sounds a little sinister to us.
  • Momma brought all sorts of books and puzzles and games to keep the troops entertained for three days, but Kenny is more interested in what Byron will do.
  • Mini flashback: a few days ago, Buphead was visiting and Byron revealed his plan for getting back at Momma and Dad. He knew Momma was going to want to play games like counting cows or red cars while they drive. Byron said that for the whole trip, no matter what happened, he wouldn't say one word. Silent treatment. Byron thought that if he refused to talk, it would upset the family and ruin the trip for everyone.
  • Kenny waits to see if he'll really do it.
  • But by the time they get to Detroit (like an hour into the trip), Byron has already opened his mouth to ask about who gets to choose the music for the Ultra-Glide.
  • Kenny can't resist.
  • He says, "I guess you really showed them, didn't you? Boy, they were really begging you to talk, weren't they, Daddy-o?" (9.149).
  • Good one.
  • Byron gives Kenny the middle finger.
  • Kenny asks how many cows Byron has counted.
  • Byron responds with a "Yo Momma" joke. (Which confuses Kenny since, don't they have the same mom? Yeah.)
  • Kenny calls Byron the Lipless Wonder (remember, from when he froze his lips to the car?). That really hits a nerve. Byron tries to grab Kenny, but Dad finally stops the fight.
  • All this in the first hour? Sounds like it's gonna be a long trip.

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