Ballad of Birmingham

By Dudley Randall 1914–2000 Dudley Randall

(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?”

Dudley Randall, “Ballad of Birmingham” from Cities Burning. Copyright © 1968 by Dudley Randall. Reprinted with the permission of the Estate of Dudley Randall.

Source: Cities Burning (Broadside Press, 1968)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Dudley Randall 1914–2000

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Crime & Punishment, War & Conflict, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Ballad

 Dudley  Randall

Biography

Dudley Randall published his first poem in the Detroit Free Press when he was thirteen. After earning degrees in English and library science, Randall worked as a librarian until his 1974 retirement. He established Broadside Press in 1965, which became an important publisher of African-American poets and political writers. Randall translated Russian writers, and experimented with a variety of styles in his own poetry.

Continue reading this biography

Poems by Dudley Randall

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Crime & Punishment, War & Conflict, Race & Ethnicity

Poetic Terms Ballad

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.