Study Guide

Ballad of Birmingham Innocence

By Dudley Randall

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"Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play" (1-2)

Most children would rather play than do just about anything, right? The first image of the poem immediately establishes that this is a serious-minded child, one who wants to march alongside the other demonstrators rather than go do regular kid-stuff. She also addresses her mother as "dear" which shows affection and love. Randall characterizes this child as one with pure, unselfish thoughts. As we'll see later in the poem, her characterization clashes with the violence of those who aim to stop the marches

"But, mother, I won't be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free." (9-12)

Though a poem about the Birmingham bombing, it's also a chronicle of the demonstrations that took place before the bombing. The Children's Marches were documented protests featuring children. Randall wanted to give readers a clear image of these marches and remind us that it wasn't just adults who showed up to protest inequality. The images of children (who are generally considered to be born innocent of any sin) facing racism are a poignant reminder of why he wrote the poem in the first place: to show the devastation of racism as it affects the most innocent in society.

And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet. (19-20)

The child dresses for church, taking care to match her gloves and shoes. What's more, they are white, a common symbol for innocence and purity. But it isn't just the symbolism that emphasizes the child's innocence; she's dedicated to appearing at church in fancy clothes, which shows her respect for the holy place. He's characterizing her personality as innocent, too, just like her appearance.

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