Study Guide

Ballad of Birmingham Epigraph

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(On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

  • Before we even start the poem, we have some geography and history to sort through, Shmoopers. 
  • Don't worry, this will be better than your fourth and fifth period classes at school.
  • It looks like we're at a church in Birmingham, Alabama. More specifically, this church is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Civil rights leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., used it for meetings.
  • Their choice for location was important. Birmingham was frequently the center of attention in the 1950s and 1960s for conflicts over Jim Crow laws, which legalized segregation in the South. Ever see old photographs of stores with signs that read "Whites Only"? That was legal in the Jim Crow era. 
  • As a response, movements were enacted all over the country, and Birmingham was the site of many marches to protest the unfairness of these laws.
  • But some folks didn't want change, and they went to violent lengths to oppose the end of segregation. One horrifying case in point: on September 15, 1953, white supremacists bombed the church where these civil rights leaders held their meetings. Four young girls were killed in the bombing.

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