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Historical and Literary Elements in The Ballad of Birmingham

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Words: 1001 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 1001|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Dudley Randall was a poet from Detroit, Michigan who contributed to African-American poetry with many works including “Ballad of Birmingham”. The Birmingham church bombing took place on September 15, 1963, at the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was a church with a “predominantly black congregation that also served as a meeting place for civil rights leaders”. Unfortunately in the attack, many were injured and four young girls died. These four girls were: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the third attack in eleven days, was all because of the integration of Alabama’s schools. Dudley Randall uses both historical facts and literary dramatizations in the poem “Ballad of Birmingham” in order to portray and narrate the events and feelings in the context of a mother and her daughter in the 16th Street Baptist church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Randall wrote his poem with many details, some that were based on facts and could be confirmed by source materials. For example, the location in the poem Birmingham, Alabama when stating, “And march the streets of Birmingham,” is based on facts and could be confirmed by many sources. Another detail written by Randall that is factual is when he states, “For the dogs are fierce and wild/And clubs and hoses, guns, and jails”. There are many sources that describe the violence and dangers that would take place during these non-violence protests for equality. For instance, an article by Stanford University states, “During the next few days images of children being blasted by high-pressure fire hoses, clubbed by police officers, and attacked by police dogs appeared on television and in newspapers, triggering international outrage”. Lastly, another detail that Randall stated that could be confirmed is the line describing the devastated mother lifting one of her daughter’s shoe, “Then lifted out a shoe/‘O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, But, baby, where are you?’”. According to CNN, an editor named Gene Patterson wrote a whole column about the one shoe, “A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand, she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her”.

In addition, to factual details, Randall also wrote details in his poem that did not seem to be based on confirmed facts. For example, in his poem, Randall wrote, “She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,/And bathed rose petal sweet/And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands, / And white shoes on her feet”. Another example, was, “But that smile was the last smile/To come upon her face”. These two details cannot be confirmed by facts, however; these lines help develop communication and a stronger connection with the reader and help them imagine a more complete vision.

These fictionalized materials also enhance the description of the real-life events in the poem. The first example again is, “She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,/And bathed rose petal sweet/And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands, /And white shoes on her feet,”. This textual evidence enhances the description because these lines are a more peaceful part of the story than the other lines. It gives the impression that the mother is calm and no longer in a worried state. In addition, these lines make the daughter seem pure and innocent because the actions, as well as the color white, symbolizes innocence and purity. The second example is, “But that smile was the last smile/To come upon her face”. This textual evidence enhances the description because these lines give a foreshadow to the reader that something bad is going to happen and that the peace mentioned before isn’t going to last long. These lines also create an even deeper emotional connection between the reader and the mother because of the worry and panic she shows.

This poem explains a very disastrous event and conveys Randall’s point of view about protests, the bombing and the impact of the violence on families. Randall reflected his sorrow about the bombing and the impact of violence on the families in his poem. The content of the poem suggests that Randall is unhappy with what is happening. His choice of words and description shows that he thinks these things are tragic and devastating in ways that no one would want to or could understand being in a position like the mother would be. For example, in the poem, Randall states, “But that smile was the last smile/To come upon her face/For when she heard the explosion,/Her eyes grew wet and wild/She raced through the streets of Birmingham/Calling for her child”. This textual evidence reveals Randall’s point of view on the bombing and the impact of violence on the families because it reveals his sympathy for the mother and many others that were struggling through in this situation by describing the frustration, shock, and sadness of the mother after losing her child.

Moreover, I believe that the content of the poem also shows to the reader that Randall knows that the protests during the time were violent and dangerous while helping the ongoing cause of equality. For instance, in the poem, Randall states, “For the dogs are fierce and wild/ And clubs and hoses, guns and jails/Aren’t good for a little child”. This textual evidence also shows Randall’s point of view because he informs the reader about the dangers during protests such as power hosing, clubbing, and dog bites. This suggests that Randall agrees that the protests during the time were not safe for anyone, let alone for a child.

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In conclusion, by using both historical facts and literary dramatizations in the poem “Ballad of Birmingham”, Dudley Randall narrates the events in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama through the eyes of a mother and her daughter. Randall’s style and techniques easily spread the meaning and importance of this powerful poem and thus reminds the readers about one of the hardest periods in American history. 

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Historical And Literary Elements In The Ballad Of Birmingham. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/historical-and-literary-elements-in-the-ballad-of-birmingham/
“Historical And Literary Elements In The Ballad Of Birmingham.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/historical-and-literary-elements-in-the-ballad-of-birmingham/
Historical And Literary Elements In The Ballad Of Birmingham. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/historical-and-literary-elements-in-the-ballad-of-birmingham/> [Accessed 19 Jul. 2024].
Historical And Literary Elements In The Ballad Of Birmingham [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2024 Jul 19]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/historical-and-literary-elements-in-the-ballad-of-birmingham/
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