Dudley Randall's "Ballad of Birmingham" recounts a poignant tale of a mother and child involved in the 1963 bombing of a predominantly black church in Birmingham, Alabama. The poem is steeped in irony as the mother believes she has made the right decision by sending her daughter to church to sing in the choir instead of allowing her to go to a "Freedom March." In a case of dramatic irony, the reader already knows that the mother makes the wrong choice for her daughter.
At first, the mother's attitude is one of contented resolve. She's certain that the "March" will include "dogs," "clubs," "hoses," and "guns." She's satisfied that the church will be safe ("She smiled") because it is a "sacred place" and she never imagines anything could go wrong. This contentment is echoed in the lilting rhythm of the poem's first four stanzas. The mother refrains, "No Baby, no, you may not go."
When the mother hears the explosion, her attitude changes to one of shock and anguish ("Her eyes grew wet and wild"). The reader may feel pity for her as she searches for her daughter in the rubble of the church ("But, baby, where are you?"). Surprisingly, one attitude that is absent is that of bitterness over racial injustice. At the end of the poem, the reader is simply presented with the overwhelming grief of the mother.