Poetic Depiction Of Racial Injustice In “ballad Of Birmingham By Dudley Randall
In Dudley Randall’s poem “Ballad Of Birmingham”, he presents an idea of how a normal lifestyle of a mother and daughter can take a turn for the worst because of racial injustice taking effect during the United States, in the 60’s. The Birmingham Church bombing was an attack perpetrated by the Klu Klux Klan because they weren’t willing to accept the recently integrated parts of their city, due to the rising popularity of the fight against racial injustice.
Four innocent children were killed during the bombing, which urged Americans to pay attention to the racial violence taking lives of young people who are still incapable to process the endangerment that is being put upon them since they are only adolescents. This event drew national attention and helped the Civil Rights Movement gain momentum because the general public only thought about the discrimination of african-american adults, but the images of young children being burdened by these acts of bloodshed deeply moved and prompted them to take action,
In this poem, A naive child is asking her mother if she could attend the march in the streets of Birmingham, but her mother is hesitant in letting her do so because she knows the dangers and atrocities that occur during many of these marches, and she feels irresponsible of her to permit her child in joining this march and exposing her to a chance of there being aggression at the event. She informs her child of several hazards that arise amid these episodes of defiance, but needless to what her mother tells her, the child insists that she let her go because her friends are going to be accompanying her along the way. The mother is fearful her daughter might get injured and insists that she go to a church instead because it is a blessed institution, and she’s positive no harm will be done to her while she is there. Shortly after her child leaves the house, the mother hears a deafening explosion, and she courses through the streets to find her beloved daughter. She doesn’t discover any remains of her daughter, except one of the shoes she wore this morning.
Dudley Randall emphasizes the need to stop racial discrimination throughout this poem by using imagery, symbolism, metaphors, and irony as a way to portray the persuade his audience to act on the issue of civil rights. He also wants to influence the people who are doubtful about joining the fight because of the problematic outcome. Randall applies the dramatic nature of the situation, presented in the poem, to evoke emotions from his audience by showing a trustworthy and innocent relationship between a mother and daughter. Moreover, he adopts a different point-of-view of a historical event to incite the readers into believing that these scenes of cruelty isn’t just coming from a world of imagination, but it’s happening constantly through the hardships faced by african-americans on a daily basis.
The attitude/tone directed in this poem is extremely somber and melancholic. The author’s conduct of imagery, along with other literary devices, illustrates the anguish he endured during the period of racial injustice. The author proceeds to incite bitter feelings of grief, by granting the reader to see what horrors were committed to the daughter through the mother’s response to the explosion. The poem advocates that no establishment/place is safe when the thoughts of people are polluted, and anything can happen even when a person least expects it.
Randall uses imagery and irony to help the reader form a visualization of the events occuring in the poem, synchronously evoking emotion due to the unpleasantness of the poem set around the incident of the bombing. The poetic elements further put importance on what the poet is trying to achieve, by letting the reader make connections to the objects and understand the paradox created from the meaning of church. The writer states:
For when she heard the explosion
Her eyes grew wet and wild
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling her child. (Randall lines 25-28)
This immediately charters up an image of a grieving mother because she couldn’t find her child in all the dust and rumble caused by the bombing. It forces the reader to sympathize with the mother because of her longing to discover her daughter in the midst of debris, and her tearful eyes showcase the look of insanity and irritation because of her internal feeling of panic caused by the sound of the explosion. Mothers, who are part of the targeted audience of this poem, can associate themselves with the feeling that the mother is going through because the thought of losing one’s child can be heartbreaking for anyone, but it can be utmost difficult for a mother since they are the ones who carried the babies in their womb and are devoted to them since the moment they are born.
The mother’s eyes portray a sense of panic because the explosion indicates that something isn’t right, and her animal-like instincts go into full effect since she is trying to figure out whether her daughter is safe or if she has been injured. She is in a state of urgency to locate her daughter as quickly as possible, as “she clawed through bits of glass and brick” (29) due to the fact that she can’t think straight because her daughter is nowhere to be found. Envisioning such a horrible experience through the mother’s eyes, makes the reader want to comfort her to calm down, but deep inside, the mother is unconsolable because her daughter’s missing. The poet draws irony by using the church as the place the mother tells her daughter to visit, “But you may go to church instead / And sing in the children’s choir and her mother smiled to know her child / Was in the sacred place” (Randall Lines 15-16, 21-22).
The church is supposed to be a holy place where no wrongdoing can occur, but in this instance, an act of sin happened there and it was far from a safe destination for the child to go to. The mother was adamant on trying to convince her daughter to go to the church to sing, instead of marching the streets of Birmingham because of the riots that can produce during these events. She is fearful that something might happen to a little child in the middle of a huge crowd and she doesn’t know the safety precautions that are taken during one of these marches, so she refuses to risk her child’s security.
The irony is that the church will provide a safe haven for her daughter, whereas, the march would not, but the events that occur after she leaves the house, are completely the opposite of what the mother intended. The child is killed during the fiery bombing and her attendance at the march would’ve actually spared her life, much safer from the disaster that transpired. It was unexpected that a political assembly, where violence is prone to happen, is a much secure place for the daughter to be. It appears that one would think of a church to be filled with purity, not evil, but the bombing took place there and it showed how hatred and racism show no boundaries.
To exhibit the guiltlessness of the little girl, the author uses forms of symbolism and metaphors to cement a naive personality of a regular child, when they are unbeknownst to the corrupt world and just take challenges one day at a time, without paying too much consideration to the bad aspects of life. The poet wants the daughter to represent any innocent child and the fight for equality symbolizes an antagonistic entity that resides in America during the Civil Rights Movement, where many african-american children were discriminated against for the color of their skin, but not their knowledge or personality. During the beginning of the poem, the mother inserted “white gloves on her small brown hands / And white shoes on her feet” (Randall lines 19-20), which entails the color white, as an indication of purity and decency.
White has invariably appeared as an emblem of pristine and promise, so the author’s choice of including that detail in the poem is no accidental occurrence, since that’s the only reference to a color he makes during the poem’s span. The reader is able to understand that the immature child’s judgement isn’t concerned by the prejudiced attitudes that envelope around her, yet, her beliefs are as fair and unhindered as the color of her clothing. The symbolism implemented by the poet is a critical approach to embody the purity of the daughter as detectable not primarily through her knowledge and understanding, but in her exterior look correspondingly. This commands us to speculate why such an innocent soul, who is unmistakably powerless, would become a victim of such a discriminatory act, in such a barbaric way. Furthermore, this is an accurate depiction of all the prejudiced events that took place in Alabama, along with a lot of other southern states in the 1960’s. Randall’s metaphorical usage compare the likeliness of one thing to another by giving the reader objects and animals to represent something completely different, “For the dogs are fierce and wild / And clubs and hoses, guns and jail / Aren’t good for a little child” (Randall lines 6-8).
The poet is depicting the police of Birmingham as the wild dogs because the police were ruthless against the african-americans, whenever they were conducting peaceful protests and marches. They were using inhumane tactics to disturb the peace of the protesters, by spraying them with high-pressurized water from hoses and using their clubs to hit the people, even though they didn’t use any force upon them. Randall identifies the police as the devices who helped prolong the fight against racial inequality, instead of joining it, and feels as if law enforcement were the authority for hate and violence committed in the south since they took no measures to stop it. In addition, the daughter has “white gloves [drawn] on her small brown hands / And white shoes on her feet” ( Randall lines 19-20), which shows her generally getting dressed for her own death. On some occasions, funerals are held at churches, which gives this line an ironic meaning to it because people mostly wear black to funerals, but since the daughter didn’t know she was going to die, she is wearing white, not knowing the tragedy is is about to succumb to.
As it is apparent from the arguments for the poetic devices provided, Dudley Randall wants the reader to feel sympathy for the innocent lives lost due to the Civil Rights Movement by using the bond between a mother and daughter to emit a connection of compassion that all mothers around the world might feel if their child was hurt in any kind of way.
The poet employs the use of a single point-of-view, so the reader can feel a sense of understanding for the terrible reality of the fight for equality being a complex conflict, rather than a straightforward one. It portrayed the harsh actualities of people being judged by the color of their skin, rather than their attitudes, and the author was effective in expressing his ambition to let other citizens know of the atrocities committed against african-americans during the late 1950’s all the way to the entirety of the 1960’s. The writer’s various applications of style and material are presented to be compelling forms of evidence to get his point across on how he feels about the injustices acted upon not just civil rights activists, but young children as well. Thankfully, such acts of discrimination have minimized during the decades following the movement, but we should continue acknowledge that these events ensued so history doesn’t repeat itself.
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