Study Guide

Ballad of Birmingham Race

By Dudley Randall

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"And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?" (3-4)

Though we already know from the title that Birmingham is our setting, Randall indicates here what era and situation the poem centers around: the freedom marches in the early 1960s. Birmingham was the setting for many such marches, which sought to end racial segregation by local business owners or, more generally, to promote equality in America.

[…] march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free." (11-12)

Can a country really be free if many of its citizens, because of their race, don't have the same rights as others? Randall didn't think so. In fact, even the child in the poem can see that freedom can't really work until it's equally shared.

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands (17-19)

Randall describes the child's appearance by using positive associations, such as "night-dark" and "rose-petal." He also is sure to indicate her race here, so that we know the discrimination (and violence) she faces. Even the children dealt with the daily repercussions of racism and, as we see later in the poem, the child in Randall's ballad fared no differently.

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