Poem: “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall

2 Posted by - February 29, 2024 - BLACK ART & LITERATURE, LATEST POSTS

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)

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”
“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”
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.
The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
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.
She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”







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