Dudley Randall wrote Ballad of Birmingham to presents a conversation between a girl and her mother in an anti-racism context. The girls seek to participate in a civil rights march, but her mother is adamant that such events are dangerous and she should go to church instead. The poem portrays how hateful and angry blacks reacted to racial discrimination and segregation. In the 1900s, racial segregation was highly prominent, and it triggered the crafting of some authors’ work on issues that emanated from such scenarios. Ballad of Birmingham is a response to the 16th street Baptist church bombing that occurred in 1963. Randall intended to capture such scenarios but in a poetic way. The girl expresses powerful feelings cognizant of the immediate world, showing her desire to march in a protest and her voice to be heard. Her mother sent her to the church where she thought her child would be safe. To the mother’s disbelief, the church was bombed while the girl was inside, and she never made it back home.
The poem, Ballad of Birmingham, encompasses a context of anti-racism protests setting where the authority contained the protestors by use of the extreme amount of force. Sometimes they used life ammunition to ease down the marches. The mother denies her daughter permission to join the protests while giving several reasons. “For dogs are fierce and wild, the hoses and the clubs are not good for a little girl and I fear that the guns may fire,” (Randall,2). The mother tells the daughter the probable repercussions of attending the protest and gives her the alternative of joining the children’s choir at the church. The girl explains to her mother that there will be other people in the marches; hence, it will be somewhat safe for her to join them, but the mother disagreed with her. The daughter cleans up for church. After she had joined the choir, the explosion was heard, and the mother rushed heading to that place where she found that her daughter was no more. The mother could not believe that the place she thought could have been the most sacred had become a scene of her daughter’s death.
Randall used literary devices to present the devastating incident that emanated from the civil rights movement. He makes the poem’s readers feel the pain that the victims of the bombing felt that day by using history, irony, imagery, and symbolism. History amounts to a crucial role in triggering emotions and understanding the text. The poet presents the history of racism and how the victims of such social issues protested for equality and freedom. It is ironic that the girl’s mother thought the girl would be safe while in the church; little did she know that the church would be bombed, and she ended up losing the girl she had shown much protection. The mother feared that the guns would fire and a girl might be harmed, but the girl could be far from such atrocities in the church. Neither the mother nor the girl knew that the church would be bombed. Besides irony, the poet also uses symbolism in several poem lines. The use of symbolism and imagery creates a clear picture of an innocent child ready to fight against the destruction and hate of the white people in that era. The church symbolized a safe place free from evils things. The girl wore a pair of white gloves on her tiny brown hands and a pair of white shoes. The white color symbolizes peace. The mother was assured the girl was going to a peaceful place but not in places susceptible to violence and chaos.
The author uses imagery to evoke feelings of sadness and regret in the readers. The entire poem is imagery. The text elicits thoughts and images of a mother and her child. Every reader can relate to the daughter-mother attachment or just the mother’s love for a child. Randall used the child-to-mother conversation to make readers more attached to his text and trigger the imagination of the reader’s intimate relationships. The imagery presents a destructive and inhumane impact of racial and social bias that profoundly captures the minds and makes them imagine the situation. The pictures left in the reader’s mind involve a pure soul lost out the atrocity caused by people with evil and dark intentions.
Another literary device employed in the poem is tonal variation. The author presents a different tone in different situations to make the readers feel and relate the impacts of the described settings. For example, in the initial stanza, the reader can pick out the happiness in the child’s voice as she asks to join the protest. A somber tone comes in the last stanza as the poet presents the mother’s setting looking at her child and unveiling that the child was the victim of the explosion. Randall employs repetition to emphasize the downtown happenings and to present a clear image to the readers. The line “no baby, baby no, you may not go” is repeated in the second and fourth stanzas as the mother emphasizes why the daughter should not join the freedom march.
As the title suggests, Randall’s narrative is a typical ballad because it talks of only one incident, the bombing of Birmingham church in Alabama. The author does not tell much about the two main characters, the mother and the daughter. The only thing the reader knows about them is that they were trying to be safe from the adverse impacts of the violence that might sprout up from the protests. The mother tells the daughter that the clubs and hoses, jails, and guns are not good for little babies. The mother uses the church as a commitment device for her child to stay safe. However, the girl met the violence. It is not made clear whether the explosion killed the child, but the tone that the author presents in the line where the mother asks a rhetorical question as she finds the shoe that she wore while left for church shows that the mother will find challenges finding her since she might have gone (Randall, 2). The ballad of Birmingham is driven by the dialogue of the two characters, although some stanzas show narration from unspecified characters. The lack of significant repetition throughout the ballad is a key difference between Randall’s poem and other ballads. He only repeats one line in two stanzas and avoids further repletion to bring forth more than one theme in the text. Racial discrimination, violence, and parent-to-child protection are the key themes portrayed in the poem.
The poem targets the entire society. The message of the impacts of racial bias and the authoritative use of extra power to contain protest is a text that suits every race. The white police involved in the bombing should be pitiful to the mother who lost her innocent girl in their hands. The poem also portrays that there is no safer place amidst the protests, not even in churches. The mother to the child was bewildered that the place where she thought was sacred and pure and guaranteed her daughter enough security turned out to be the scene of her grief. The authors aim to bring the historical foundation of racism and the essence of the blacks fighting for their rights despite the brutal response from the white supremacists.
Randall, Dudley. Ballad of Birmingham. Detroit, MI: Broadside Press, 1965.