Memorable pulls us into that day and moment through


Moment in History

you enjoy history and a good read? Well,
Dudley Randall brings the two together in his adaptation of an event in
history. “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall published in 1969, “concisely
interprets a tragic event” (Carter) and manages to capture the malicious and
painful moments of the civil rights movement in a short poem about a mother and
daughter. After “considering the extent to which audience controls the form
of the message” (Reeves), I have determined that this poem was written for all
audiences. It is a beautiful poem that can be read by all people and is written
for all people. There isn’t any hateful or disrespectful language used., only
painful and innocent language. The poem is written not to show how angry and
hateful blacks should be towards white people but more so to ensue regret and sadness in those who read it.
In “Ballad of Birmingham”, Dudley Randall makes us feel the pain felt the day
of the accident and pulls us into that day and moment through his use of
history, imagery, irony, and symbolism.

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the surface, this poem is about a girl who wants to protest for freedom but her
mom wants her to be safe, so she sends her to church instead. While the girl is
at church a bomb explodes and the girl never makes it back to her mother. A lot
of history goes into understanding “Ballad of Birmingham” with greater detail.
It isn’t just about the little girl and her mother, there is more to the story than just the surface. “Ballad of Birmingham”
is a depiction of what might have happened between the mother and child of one
of the girls that lost their life the day of the bombing. What bombing you
might ask, well on September 15, 1963 “The 16th Street church which was the
first and largest black church in Birmingham” (Joiner) was bombed down by “a
bomb planted in the church’s basement” (Joiner). According to Lonnie Bunch “a
moment that the world would never forget,”. Four young girls lost their lives that
day. The next day life went on as normal. No one talked about it nor did they
take a moment of silence. Carolyn McKinstry, who was in the church on the day
of the bombing, thinks this was the case because “there was nothing we could do
about it.” (Joiner). It was simply a way of life and they were black and not
respected in society. “It didn’t matter that blacks were killed, that little girls were killed in Sunday
school.” (Joiner) Black lives were disposable to white people no matter what
the age. Even the police who are supposed to protect all lives acted as if
there was nothing they could do about it. There was simply nothing done to give
closure to the families that lost a child in the bombing. “The community…did
not think white people were going to convict one of their own for the death of
black children.” (Joiner), which stayed true for 14 years until someone finally
answered for the crime. This bombing wasn’t the only bombing that occurred in
Birmingham. According to Joiner, around this time, Birmingham, Alabama was
called “Bombingham” because there were “80 unsolved bombings in the city” and
the bombing of the church was the only one solved.

you think deeper into what the poem could mean you find a lot more. First off
this is a young girl which we can infer because of the use of children and
child to describe people the daughter’s
age and the daughter herself. Times are so bad for people of color that the
young generation feels like they need to take part for a difference to be made.
We usually think of adults being the caretakers
for the children but the children are joining in to be the caretakers of their
people. Age no longer mattered because more was at stake and people of all ages
needed to come together to make a change. During this time of hate and
inequality, parents felt that their children we safer in church than outside in
the streets with all of the chaos. But on this horrific day in history, the church was the least safe place for anyone to
be. You are meant to feel safe in the house of God
and the last thing you expect is for someone to stoop so low as to destroy the
house of God. But that day, Sunday the
15th of September in the year of 1963 at 10:22 AM, the church was the last
place you wanted your children to be.

adds to the feeling of regret and sadness in those who read it. According to
Caldwell, the images that Randall uses, “illustrates the utterly inhumane and
destructive results of social and racial bias.” 
The poem as a whole is imagery. It invokes the image and thought of a
mother and child. Everyone can relate to the mother-daughter
relationship or even just the love of a mother to their child. The use of a
mother and child makes the reader feel more attached to the poem and invokes
the thought of the reader’s own mother. The
description of the daughter getting ready for church brings a powerful image
full of symbolism. “And bathed rose petal sweet, / And drawn white gloves on
her small brown hands, / And white shoes on her feet.” (18-20) White gloves,
white shoes, small hands, rose petal sweet are words chosen to describe the
girl as she was getting ready for church. Words that hold more meaning than
just that of the surface. Nothing harmful
can come from small hands. The smell of roses is calming and also known as the
odor of sanctity which is associated with the smell of a saint. White gloves
and white shoes, white chosen to represent goodness, innocence, and purity. The
girl’s shoe found amongst the “bits of
glass and brick,” (29) without the girl in sight represents the innocence being
lost in the destruction. A pure life lost and ruined by the dark and evil.

irony occurs when the audience knows something that a character doesn’t know.
“No, baby, no, you may not go, / For the dogs are fierce and wild, / And clubs
and hoses, guns and jails/ Aren’t good for a little child.” (5-8) “No, baby,
no, you may not go, / For I fear those guns will fire. / But you may go to
church instead / And sing in the children’s choir.” (13-16) “The mother smiled
to know her child / Was in the sacred place,” (21-22) Despite what the child
has to say in objection to her mom, the mother stayed on her instinct that her
daughter was not safe on the streets but safest in church, “the sacred place”
(22). The mother wanted only for her daughter to be safe during the time of
chaos. Ultimately the desire for the mother to want her daughter to be safe led
to her daughter’s demise. If only she let her daughter go protest with the
other kids amongst the guns, dogs, clubs, and hoses, her daughter might have
made it home that day. What is worse to think about is according to Carter,
“The daughter’s preparations for church become her preparations for death.”.
Reading this poem with knowledgeable mind about the events leading to this poem
makes it that much sadder and hard to read. The irony just makes you want to
scream at the mother not to make her daughter go to church. The overall piecing
irony in this poem is that during this time period “an African American child
is safe nowhere in Birmingham,”(Caldwell). If this poem was written to show a
mother allowing her daughter to go protest, who is to say that the girl would
have returned home safely. It may have just been the same outcome. We will
never know because as Carter put it, “The child who eagerly wanted to raise her
small voice in protest of social injustice has been silenced.”.

“Ballad of Birmingham”, Dudley Randall makes us feel the pain felt the day of
the accident and pulls us into that day and moment through his use of history,
imagery, irony, and symbolism. History plays an important role in the emotions
and understanding of this poem. Without the history, the impact is not the
same. Imagery and symbolism play together in order to create this clear image
of a young innocent girl against the hate and destruction of white people
during this time period. Ironically if the mother would have let her daughter
go protest with the other children the daughter probably would have never
encountered such destructive hatred. Randall tells the story of the 4 little
girls who lost their lives that day in a beautifully sad and meaningful manner.
What I learned from reading this poem is that there is hate everywhere and hate
finds its way even to the purest of us all.