Interpretation of “Ballad of Birmingham”
In 'Ballad of Birmingham,' Dudley Randall illustrates a conflict between a child who wishes to march for civil rights and a mother who wishes only to protect her child. Much of this poem is read as dialogue between a mother and a child, a style which gives it an intimate tone and provides insight to the feelings of the characters. Throughout the poem the child is eager to go into Birmingham and march for freedom with the people there. The mother, on the other hand, is very adamant that the child should not go because it is dangerous. It is obvious that the child is concerned about the events surrounding the march and wants to be part of the movement. The child expresses these feelings in a way that appears mature and mindful of the surrounding world, expressing a desire to support the civil rights movement rather than to go out and play. The desire to no longer be seen as a child and have her voice heard by those being marched against and by her mother (who can also be seen as an oppressive form of authority in this poem) is expressed by the first few lines. The opinion of the child is much like that of all young people who want to fight for their freedom.
The first four stanzas in the poem is a conversation between the mother and daughter. The daughter is asking her mother can she go and march for freedom instead of playing outside with friends. The age of the daughter is not revealed in the poem; however I will assume based on the poem that she is in her adolescent years. I say this because she is still paying outside with friends and her mother suggests that she sings in the children’s choir at choir. She is very mature for her age because children are not concerned with matters such as these. In the second stanza her mother goes on to explain to her why she does not agree with her going out to march for freedom. Her mother states, “For the dogs are fierce and wild/ And clubs and hoses, guns and jails/ Aren’t good for a little child.” I believe this expresses her concern for the being of her daughter, she understands what happens when people march for freedom. The sound and tone of the words chosen by the author “dogs”, “fierce, “wild”, “clubs”, “hoses”, “guns” and “jails” is portrayed as violent and dangerous. These terms truly provides imagery of a march, it reminds of pictures I have seen with people being arrested and sprayed with water hoses. I believe “dogs” is a symbol referring to those who are committing violent acts against people of color. The mother knows that an environment such as “marching” is no place for a child; its dark, scary and violent for those who are participating. The daughter is determined to convince to her mother that she will be fine, as she will not be “alone”. Her being “alone” is not the main concern; however, it is the “guns firing” which she is most concerned about. The daughter announces “Other will go with me/ And march the streets of Birmingham/ To make out country free.”The audience would agree that her daughter is extremely brave and has a heart for civil rights, she understands the meaning of being free.
The mother suggests that her daughter attend church instead of going to the march. She believed that she would be safe in a “sacred place”. Why did she think her daughter would be safe in the church? I believe she did not think they would harm a house of God, since it is sacred she felt they would be afraid to commit such an act or possibly that God would protect her baby while in the house of the Lord. The child draws “And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands/ And white shoes on her feet” is a reflection of her innocence and purity. It also portrays an outfit that she would wear to her funeral, this was very ironic. The child’s hair color is described as