Dudley Randall was an African-American poet and poetry publisher from Detroit, Michigan. He founded a pioneering publishing company called Broadside Press in 1965, which published many leading African-American writers, among them Melvin Tolson, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Etheridge Knight, Margaret Walker, and others.
Randall’s most famous poem is “The Ballad of Birmingham,” written in response to the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four girls were killed. Randall’s poetry is characterized by simplicity, realism, and what one critic has called the “liberation aesthetic.
“Ballad of Birmingham” describes an African-American mother and her daughter conversing about a “Freedom March” in the streets of Birmingham. The young child asks permission to participate in the march, but her mother objects and describes the dangers of going to the freedom marchers. Instead, she is sent to church, which is perceived to be a place of safety. Soon, after the daughter leaves for church, an explosion is heard. The mother unfortunately discovers that her daughter’s life has been taken from her in one violent act of racism.
Ballad of Birmingham
(On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)