Analysis of Dudley Randall’s “The Ballad of Birmingham”
Racial tension soared throughout the 1960’s. White supremacist groups, such as the Ku
Klux Klan, prevailed. Racial discrimination was a common theme among society. Dudley
Randall’s, “The Ballad of Birmingham,” dramatizes the bombing of a predominately black
church in Birmingham, Alabama. While the poem is plainly composed, Randall develops the
ballad about the consequences of racial tension and discrimination through his use of setting,
imagery, diction, speaker, and situational irony.
To fully understand the poem, one must first look at its structure.
“The Ballad of
Birmingham” consists of eight total stanzas and follows the format of a traditional ballad. The
ballad is written in four line stanzas, with a repetitive refrain of “No, baby no, you may not go,”
it has a dialogue between two characters, follows a distinct rhyming pattern, and is characterized
by direct narration and quick action (lines 5 and 13). The poem is written in free verse with
enjambments. Although there is no definite meter, there is a natural rhythm created by the end-
rhymes in the second and fourth line of each stanza.
“The Ballad of Birmingham” was published in 1969, only 6 years after the bombing took
place. Racial issues were still undeniably present and although the bombing may have faded
from the news, it was still fresh in the minds of the black community. Randall is an African-
American male and although he did not experience the bombing, he likely faced similar racial
discrimination. Because of Randall’s background, a definite purpose is revealed behind the
poem. The solemn tone reflects the poet’s own attitude towards the subject and is meant to
further express the terrible nature of the bombing.
Randall uses simple diction throughout “The Ballad of Birmingham.” The relatively