When death affects us personally, our grief seems overwhelming and irremediable. But when it affects others, we tend to distance ourselves from it. In “Ballad of Birmingham,” Dudley Randall does something news stories and textbooks cannot. He makes the sadness of an infamous tragedy vivid and heartfelt to everyone who reads it, whether they have a connection to the tragedy or not. “Ballad of Birmingham” is based on the events of a day that has been recounted in books and on television for decades. By approaching these events from a sentimental point of view rather than an objective one, Randall provides unique insight into the tragedy. Only four families knew what it was like to lose a child in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Although news reports might have described the sadness and shock of the families, outsiders couldn’t truly comprehend the magnitude of their loss unless they experienced it themselves. “Ballad of Birmingham” doesn’t attempt to describe the emotions of that day in 1963, but instead, creates them by focusing on two people-- a mother and daughter-- who were affected by the bombing firsthand. The first four stanzas are a conversation between the mother and her daughter, who wishes to march in the streets of Birmingham to protest segregation. The mother, worried for her daughter’s safety, argues that Birmingham is not safe for a little girl. She convinces her to go to church instead, where she assumes she will be protected. The poem ends with the mother’s realization that her daughter died in the explosion that blasted the church. The fifth stanza shows the mother preparing her daughter for Sunday school, and gives us a better understanding of how young the girl really is. The poem describes white shoes on her feet and white gloves on her “small brown hands.” This physical description demonstrates the daughter’s purity and youth, which heightens the emotional impact of her...
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