When the Watsons travel to Birmingham, America is right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, a struggle for African Americans and other minorities to have equal human rights.
While African Americans faced discrimination all over the country, racism was at its worst and most violent in the Deep South.
Some states and communities in the South passed laws called Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation (separation by race) in schools, workplaces, and public facilities like restaurants and restrooms. (Remember when Dad mentioned the "Coloreds Only" restroom in Chapter 1?)
This means that African Americans had to use separate playgrounds, hospitals, and drinking fountains. Many stores and hotels would not serve African Americans. (Remember when Dad says they can't stop just anywhere in the South? This is what he meant.)
A bunch of organizations and people were involved in the fight for equal rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. was probably the most famous activist, and he believed in using non-violent protests in order to call for change.
Even though most of the protests were non-violent, they were often met with violence, especially in the South. While the characters in this book are fictional, there were many unsolved bombings in Birmingham.
In spite of the obvious danger, the Civil Rights Movement continued to grow throughout the country. In the summer of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march on Washington D.C. and delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. (You've heard of that one, right?)
In 1964, Congress began passing laws to guarantee equal civil rights for everyone.
The Civil Rights Movement was built on the brave actions of ordinary citizens. Many of these people lost their homes or were injured or killed as a result of their actions, but they never gave up fighting for freedom for everyone.
These people are the true American heroes and they still walk among us today. "One of them may be you" (Epilogue.9).