In "Ballad of Birmingham," Dudley Randall gives us a young girl who would rather march in a protest against racism or sing in the church choir than go out to play. (You can't get much more innocent than a child going to church to sing in the children's choir, right?) She's so innocent that she doesn't even understand why the freedom marches might be dangerous for her; she just wants to join in, preferring the march over playing with her friends. When her request to march is denied, the child dresses in white, a common symbol for purity. Randall emphasizes the child's innocence to make the ultimate tragedy in the poem all the more devastating for readers.
Questions About Innocence
How does Randall characterize the young girl? Does she behave in the way we usually associate with children?
How does the final image of the poem emphasize her innocence?
Why does the mother think that the church is a better place for a child? Does the church also serve as a symbol in the poem? If so, how?
Chew on This
The young girl is herself a symbol. She represents all those who lose their life through no fault of their own.
Any victim of racism is as undeserving of such treatment as the young girl was, even if they are adults.