Study Guide

Ballad of Birmingham Violence

By Dudley Randall

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"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails" (5-7)

Randall symbolizes the police violence by showing us their methods of violence. There are many images of protestors being met with water hoses, dogs, and guns. During the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, demonstrators were arrested, too; even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent some time in jail for participating in the marches. The threat of violent repercussions were very real.

[…] I fear those guns will fire. (14)

Do guns fire on their own? Rarely—they usually require a human pulling the trigger. Instead of describing the police officers, Randall describes their weapons. What effect does this have on the poem?

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?" (29-32)

After the bombing, only a small white shoe can be seen in the rubble. It belonged to the young girl in the poem, who had just gone to church to sing in the children's choir. The shoe is a symbol of her innocence, which was demolished by the bombing. Can this symbolism work on a larger scale? Is Randall saying that violence and racism always end up with innocent people getting hurt?

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