Black History Month: Ballad of Birmingham

Ballad of Birmingham

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

 

“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?”

Dudley Randall, 1969

 

 

The above poem was written by African American poet, Dudley Randall, on the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in which four innocent African American girls lost their lives. In the late 1960s, Birmingham was the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement. The most discriminatory and segregated city in the South, Birmingham was known to violently oppose protests and demonstrations advocating desegregation and civil rights.

Religion has always played a major part in the lives of African Americans. We kept our faith in God during the most trying of times—slavery, Jim Crow, lynch mobs, the list goes on. The church was the center of many nonviolent marches and demonstrations. This couldn’t ring more true for the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which birthed many marches at its steps.

It’s a great tragedy that the KKK targeted this church, and an even greater tragedy that four young girls,  14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair, died because of it. Their only crime, attending Sunday school that morning. It’s sickening that it took years, decades, to bring the men behind this to justice, especially when it was speculated that the FBI had information on the identities of the bombers as early as 1965.

Attack us at our roots, they schemed. Destroy our core, our faith. Murder our children in cold blood, and we shall surely crumble, right? WRONG! We continued to protest and march. We were vehemently determined for justice. Dr. King spoke before a crowd of 8,000 people at the funeral for three of the girls, fueling the fire for justice.

It took a long time for the perpetrators to be caught, but as we waited we saw the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now there is talk of repealing the Voting Rights Act, and I say we need to channel the energy of our Civil Rights ancestors and fight this. The law may not seem necessary now, but give a man too much power, and he will abuse it. Next thing to go would be the 15th amendment! It isn’t necessary either, right? What are we really doing here? We’re allowing them to erase our history, rewrite it so that it looks like African Americans always had the right to vote, that they were never denied citizenship because their “grandparents” were slaves. Southern grade-school books already completely ignore slavery. That’s only the beginning.

I will always stand against something that will deny me the knowledge of my history, to remind me how far I’ve come, and you should too. Stay informed my brothers and sisters, and if you see anything that threatens your soul, fight it. Fight it with all your heart. Fight it in memory of your four daughters.

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