The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

September 15, 1963, was not a typical Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama; it was a day of devastation. Sunday school had just ended at the Seventeenth Street Baptist Church when nineteen sticks of dynamite, stashed under a stairwell, exploded. Twenty-two of the black congregation’s adults and children, although injured, survived the bombing. Four little girls, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, did not. The bombing was a horrific reminder of the dangers of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s as well as of the even greater danger and murderous power of unchecked racism. Americans were shocked as they watched televised accounts of the explosion. It was unfathomable that four little girls would be murdered in church.

Dudley Randall’s poem about the event, “Ballad of Birmingham,” was set to music and recorded prior to its 1965 publication as a broadside. The poem of thirty-two lines is divided into eight four-line stanzas; in each stanza, the second and fourth lines rhyme. In the first stanza, Randall begins a dialogue between a daughter and her mother and presents the child’s unusual request to forsake play in order to participate in one of the civil rights demonstrations that were prevalent in the South during the 1950’s and 1960’s. In the second stanza, the mother denies her daughter’s request because she fears for her daughter’s safety amid the clubs, police dogs, firehoses, and guns; she also...

(The entire section is 506 words.)