How is "Ballad of Birmingham" reflective in any way of the author Dudley Randall?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Dudley Randall was himself a child when he wrote his first poem after having attended an outdoor musical concert as he returned home and wrote of his experience to the tune of "Maryland, My Maryland." In the early 1960s he became interested in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly in the year 1963 when two events acted as the impetus to Randall's formation of the Broadside Press:

  1. The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963
  2. The assasination of President John F. Kennedy

After each tragic event, Randall composed poems.  His "Ballad of Birmingham" is written as a poignant dialogue between the mother and the daughter who was killed in the bombing, while the poem "Dressed All in Pink" refers to Mrs. Kennedy's pink suit which was splattered with her husband's blood. The poem touches upon the failed promise of what some named Kennedy's presidential term: Camelot.

Then, in order to give other black poets voice, Randall formed The Broadside Press that published poems written by various aspiring black poets. Describing his enterprise in Broadside Memories, Dudley Randall wrote that it was of the institutions that black people are creating by trial and error and out of necessity in our reaching for self-determination and independence.

This act of the poets certainly parallels the actions of the marchers in the Civil Rights Movement. In his poem "Ballad of Birmingham," the little girl asks her mother,

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”

Like the girl who wishes to partake of the struggle for Civil Rights, Dudley Randall joined others in expression as well as in working toward recognition of African-American poetry.



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