Ballad of Birmingham

by Dudley Randall

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Where does irony play a role in "Ballad of Birmingham"?

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The irony of the situation is that the mother sends her child to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church because it is one of the few places in town where she will be safe from attack. However, this church, due to its significance as a rallying point for protests and marches, is bombed. If the mother had known about this aspect of the church's history, she would have probably sent her daughter somewhere else.

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Another irony connected to the church to which the mother sends her daughter in the effort to keep the child safe is the fact that this particular church, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, is not just an ordinary church. It is a large structure (it is still there) which often served as an organizational headquarters for the Civil Rights Movement and a site of mass meetings as well as a rallying point for protests. In fact, Martin Luther King himself visited and spoke at this church, along with other major leaders such as Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, pastor of the Bethel Church in Birmingham. Thus, it was because of the church's significance as a site of African-American discontent and protest that it was bombed. 

If the mother were aware of this site's active involvement with marches and protests there in Birmingham, Alabama, a hotbed during this era, she might have reconsidered her decision to send her girl to that church, and, instead have her walk to another one where she probably would have been safer, although her walking any distance would involve risk, too.

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Irony plays a major role in the poem "Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall.  In the poem, the child asks her mother if she can go into town to participate in the Freedom March.  Her mother tells her that it will be too dangerous to go to the march and that she should instead go to the church to sing in the choir where it is safe.  Ironically, the church is bombed that day, and all the mother finds in the rubble is her daughter's shoe.  The poem suggests through irony that no place is safe when the minds of people are corrupt.

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