Give a summary of the poem "Ballad of Birmingham."

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In this poem, a little girl asks her mother if she can go downtown to march for equal rights for African Americans, but the mother says no. She fears that her daughter will not be safe if she goes to the march, as she fears the violence that could result. The little girl tries to assure her mother that she won't be alone, that there will be lots of children present and they will all march together. Still, her mother refuses the request because of the dangers of marching, and so she sends her daughter, instead, to church to "'sing in the children's choir.'" The mother believes that her daughter will be safe in the church, "a sacred place," and so she carefully and lovingly readies her daughter to go. The mother relaxes because she believes that her child is safe from harm. However, the horrible irony of the poem is that the church becomes a scene of terrible violence and her daughter is killed in an explosion. She would have been safer marching in front of police and dogs and guns than she was in a church.

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Randall's poem "Ballad of Birmingham" is about the 1963 bombing of the Seventeenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  In the first stanza of the poem, a young girl asks her mother if she can go into town to participate in the Freedom March instead of going outside to play.  Her mother tells her that the demonstration is not safe for a child because there are police wielding guns, dogs, and firehoses.  But the girl says that she will not be alone and that others will be there trying to get freedom and justice.  The mother still does not want the child to go, so she tells her that she may instead go to the church to pray in support of the march.  She helps her daughter get dressed, and the girl goes to the church where her mother assumes that she will be safe.  But the church is bombed, and when the mother goes to look for her child, all she can find is her shoe.

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