The One

Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randall
Dudley Randall (1914-2000) was an African American poet and publisher. He wrote this poem during the 1960s of the 1963 bombing of the church Martin Luther King belonged to in Birmingham Alabama. The author expresses the powerful feeling of being a victim of a racial attack and African-American church in Alabama. The whole poem is an example of irony. A mother fears for her child’s safety and sends her to a place where she believes is safe. This is where her daughter faces her demise.
“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”

“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

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?”