MemorableMoment in HistoryDoyou enjoy history and a good read? Well,Dudley Randall brings the two together in his adaptation of an event inhistory.
“Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall published in 1969, “conciselyinterprets a tragic event” (Carter) and manages to capture the malicious andpainful moments of the civil rights movement in a short poem about a mother anddaughter. After “considering the extent to which audience controls the formof the message” (Reeves), I have determined that this poem was written for allaudiences. It is a beautiful poem that can be read by all people and is writtenfor all people. There isn’t any hateful or disrespectful language used., onlypainful and innocent language. The poem is written not to show how angry andhateful 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 dayof the accident and pulls us into that day and moment through his use ofhistory, imagery, irony, and symbolism.
Atthe surface, this poem is about a girl who wants to protest for freedom but hermom wants her to be safe, so she sends her to church instead. While the girl isat church a bomb explodes and the girl never makes it back to her mother. A lotof 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 oneof the girls that lost their life the day of the bombing. What bombing youmight ask, well on September 15, 1963 “The 16th Street church which was thefirst and largest black church in Birmingham” (Joiner) was bombed down by “abomb planted in the church’s basement” (Joiner). According to Lonnie Bunch “amoment that the world would never forget,”. Four young girls lost their lives thatday. The next day life went on as normal.
No one talked about it nor did theytake a moment of silence. Carolyn McKinstry, who was in the church on the dayof the bombing, thinks this was the case because “there was nothing we could doabout it.” (Joiner). It was simply a way of life and they were black and notrespected in society. “It didn’t matter that blacks were killed, that little girls were killed in Sundayschool.
” (Joiner) Black lives were disposable to white people no matter whatthe age. Even the police who are supposed to protect all lives acted as ifthere was nothing they could do about it. There was simply nothing done to giveclosure to the families that lost a child in the bombing. “The community…didnot think white people were going to convict one of their own for the death ofblack children.” (Joiner), which stayed true for 14 years until someone finallyanswered for the crime.
This bombing wasn’t the only bombing that occurred inBirmingham. According to Joiner, around this time, Birmingham, Alabama wascalled “Bombingham” because there were “80 unsolved bombings in the city” andthe bombing of the church was the only one solved. Ifyou think deeper into what the poem could mean you find a lot more. First offthis is a young girl which we can infer because of the use of children andchild to describe people the daughter’sage and the daughter herself.
Times are so bad for people of color that theyoung generation feels like they need to take part for a difference to be made.We usually think of adults being the caretakersfor the children but the children are joining in to be the caretakers of theirpeople. Age no longer mattered because more was at stake and people of all agesneeded to come together to make a change. During this time of hate andinequality, parents felt that their children we safer in church than outside inthe streets with all of the chaos. But on this horrific day in history, the church was the least safe place for anyone tobe. You are meant to feel safe in the house of Godand the last thing you expect is for someone to stoop so low as to destroy thehouse of God.
But that day, Sunday the15th of September in the year of 1963 at 10:22 AM, the church was the lastplace you wanted your children to be.Imageryadds to the feeling of regret and sadness in those who read it. According toCaldwell, the images that Randall uses, “illustrates the utterly inhumane anddestructive results of social and racial bias.” The poem as a whole is imagery. It invokes the image and thought of amother and child. Everyone can relate to the mother-daughterrelationship or even just the love of a mother to their child. The use of amother and child makes the reader feel more attached to the poem and invokesthe thought of the reader’s own mother.
Thedescription of the daughter getting ready for church brings a powerful imagefull of symbolism. “And bathed rose petal sweet, / And drawn white gloves onher 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 thegirl as she was getting ready for church. Words that hold more meaning thanjust that of the surface. Nothing harmfulcan come from small hands. The smell of roses is calming and also known as theodor of sanctity which is associated with the smell of a saint.
White glovesand white shoes, white chosen to represent goodness, innocence, and purity. Thegirl’s shoe found amongst the “bits ofglass and brick,” (29) without the girl in sight represents the innocence beinglost in the destruction. A pure life lost and ruined by the dark and evil.
Dramaticirony 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 clubsand 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 tochurch instead / And sing in the children’s choir.” (13-16) “The mother smiledto know her child / Was in the sacred place,” (21-22) Despite what the childhas to say in objection to her mom, the mother stayed on her instinct that herdaughter 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 ofchaos.
Ultimately the desire for the mother to want her daughter to be safe ledto her daughter’s demise. If only she let her daughter go protest with theother kids amongst the guns, dogs, clubs, and hoses, her daughter might havemade 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 poemmakes it that much sadder and hard to read. The irony just makes you want toscream at the mother not to make her daughter go to church. The overall piecingirony in this poem is that during this time period “an African American childis safe nowhere in Birmingham,”(Caldwell).
If this poem was written to show amother allowing her daughter to go protest, who is to say that the girl wouldhave returned home safely. It may have just been the same outcome. We willnever know because as Carter put it, “The child who eagerly wanted to raise hersmall voice in protest of social injustice has been silenced.”. In”Ballad of Birmingham”, Dudley Randall makes us feel the pain felt the day ofthe 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 emotionsand understanding of this poem.
Without the history, the impact is not thesame. Imagery and symbolism play together in order to create this clear imageof a young innocent girl against the hate and destruction of white peopleduring this time period. Ironically if the mother would have let her daughtergo protest with the other children the daughter probably would have neverencountered such destructive hatred. Randall tells the story of the 4 littlegirls 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 hatefinds its way even to the purest of us all.