What is the purpose of the "Ballad of Birmingham"?

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pirateteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the "Ballad of Birmingham" Dudley Randall embraces the horror of the poem's setting.  Published and recorded in 1965 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Randall's poem is both moving and heart breaking, and so it's purpose is to stir the reader by evoking an emotional response from the reader.

In the poem, a young girl wants to go downtown where people are marching through the streets of Birmingham.  Her mother, fearing for her safety refuses to let her go.  Instead, the mother sends the girl to church believing that she will be safer there.  Sadly, when the mother reaches the church, she finds that the church has been bombed, and her daughter, who she only thought she was protecting, has died.  The poem's closing stanza is haunting as Randall reminds the reader that during this time of turmoil, no one is really safe.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
but, baby, where are you?"