Read the poem “Ballad of Birmingham,” by Dudley Randall, on p. 378. Then summarize and respond to this critical essay about it:Please summarize and analyze this source below using this format ONLY:
Part I (Summary Sentence)
Using this sentence structure and format, type a summary sentence completely in your own words:
In “Full Title of Article,” Author’s Full Name argues X in order to show Y.
Example: “In “Gender and the Heroics of Endurance in Oroonoko,” Mary Beth Rose argues that the ideal of male strength jeopardizes Oroonoko’s ability to act and, therefore, serves as an oppressive model for heroic action.
Part II (Main Ideas)
Using complete sentences, list 3-5 main ideas from the article/chapter (in your own words). If you use the writer’s words, put them in quotes, but mostly summarize in your OWN words. The gist of the list should be in your words, your terms, your syntax (word order).
Part III (Textual Evidence)
Choose and retype three key quotes from the article/chapter. DO NOT COPY AND PASTE. TYPE WORD-FOR-WORD. Remember to put “opening and closing quotation marks” and the page number for proper attribution (#). If you cut out part of the quote, use the ellipses brackets: [ …]. Then go back and highlight key words/terms from those quotes (be selective and intentional).
Part IV (Response)
Write 1-2 substantive paragraphs (250 words +) in which you respond to so-and-so’s argument in terms of its relevance and usefulness for understanding the historical/cultural context of the primary source (literary work). Specifically, your response should answer the following sets of questions:
- What information, if any, does the source provide about the author’s background: their nation of origin, the political events and struggles of their time, their education, literary influences, etc. How do these (biographical) details influence the critic’s interpretation of the primary source?
- What insights does the secondary source offer into the time and place in which the text was produced and/or set? What social issues, historical movements, and cultural conflicts does it highlight?
- To what extent does the text speak to present concerns? Explain.
- How does the critic’s argument confirm, challenge, or complicate your interpretation of the primary source?
- Cite details from the text to support your take on a historical/cultural aspect of the text, in dialogue (or possibly conflict) with the critic’s understanding of it.
You must integrate at least three (3) significant textual references from the secondary source and three (3) from the primary source that illustrate the points you are highlighting. Remember to integrate your evidence using signal phrases (So-and-so argues that “key words or phrases,” and as a result … (#). Always introduce and explain quotes. Never drop a quote (a.k.a hit-n-run), and never let the quote do the work for you. Keep in mind that small snippets (close reading) of parts of lines are better than long block quotes. Paraphrase when necessary, but be sure that the bulk of the writing is entirely yours.
On September 15, 1963, at 10:25 a.m. on a Sunday morning, an African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, blew apart. When the rubble settled, fourteen people were injured, and four girls were found dead–buried under pieces of the building. They were Denise McNair, age 11; Cynthia Wesley, 14; Carol Robertson, 14; and Addie Mae Collins, 14. The four girls killed in the blast had just, moments before, heard their teacher, Mrs. Ella C. Demand complete the Sunday-school lesson for the day, “The Love That Forgives.”
While African-American leaders in the city did not counsel forgiveness, they did plead with the black community to contain their anger. This, understandably, was only partially successful. According to a New York Times article on September 16, 1963, “hundreds” of blacks took to the streets. While the report of the aftermath is, at best, sketchy, five whites were reported injured and two black youths were dead. One of these youths, Johnny (or James) Robinson, age 16, was shot in the back by police as he ran from them. A second, Virgil Wade, age 13, was attacked and killed by a group whites while riding his bike. As three buildings burned and people fought in the streets, the police poured into the streets to contain the explosion of black rage and white hate.
Birmingham came to be known as `Bombingham,’ and a black section of the city, `Dynamite Hill.’
The church had blown apart as a result of at least fifteen sticks of dynamite, probably lobbed into a window by a passing car. Just five days after three, all-white schools were forcibly desegregated, the church, which had been used for civil rights organizing as well as religious activities, became the site of the fourth bombing incident in less than a month, the twenty-first in eight years, and the forty-first in sixteen years. Birmingham came to be known as “Bombingham,” and a black section of the city, “Dynamite Hill.” The targets of all of the bombings were either the homes of African Americans moving into previously white neighborhoods, the homes of civil rights leaders, or African- American churches. Though white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) openly preached hate and local white officials publicly supported segregation, not one of these bombings was ever solved. Perhaps it was incredible that the explosion of September 15, 1963, marked the first time anyone had been killed in these racist bombings.
The subtitle of “Ballad of Birmingham” reads “(On the Bombing of a Church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963).” But in Dudley Randall’s anthology The Black Poets (1988), in which “Ballad of Birmingham” is included, Randall’s subtitle has been left out. Why? My hypothesis is that this poem is not simply about the bombing of September 15, 1963, but is more generally about Birmingham during the civil rights years and, specifically, about a strategy used by civil rights leaders several months prior to September 15, 1963. It is Randall’s juxtaposition of these two historically separated events–the incidents of several months prior and the September 15 bombing–that is the real creative genius of this poem.
Let us back up about five months from September 15, 1963, to April 20. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ralph Abernathy accepted release on bail from the jail cell where King had been held after being arrested during a demonstration and where he wrote his 6,500- word “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Immediately after leaving jail, both King and Abernathy went to the nearby Gaston Motel to plan the next phase of “Project C”–their plan for desegregating Birmingham. There they met James Bevel, a veteran of the student sit-ins in Nashville. Bevel had a provocative plan: to use children in protests and demonstrations. Bevel’s argument was that while many African-American adults were reluctant to march for the very real fear of losing their jobs, children had no such fear. Furthermore, the spectacle of children being hauled off to jail would hopefully unsettle the white public. As Bevel said, “Most adults have bills to pay–house notes, rents, car notes, utility bills, but the young people… are not hooked with all those responsibilities. A boy from high school has the same effect in terms of being in jail, in terms of putting pressure on the city, as his father, and yet there’s no economic threat to the family, because the father is still on the job.” While King was back in the clutches of the law to stand trial, civil rights leaders recruited black schoolchildren from all over the city. Before any demonstrations, the children were instructed to first see a film, The Nashville Story, about a student sit-in. On Thursday, May 2, Martin Luther King, free from jail pending appeal, addressed a gathering of the children–ranging in age from six to eighteen–at the site of the future bombing, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Then the children marched downtown in a demonstration where they sang freedom songs. By the end of the day, the police jailed more than 959 children. Despite a request to King from President Kennedy to stop using children, more than 1,000 African-American children stayed away from school the next day and gathered at the Sixteenth Street Church to march. This time, the police moved in with attack dogs, and firemen marshalled high-pressure water hoses. With German shepherds attacking and 100 pounds of water pressure per square inch being sprayed at them, children were sent running and rolling through the streets. Angered, blacks now consolidated behind King, but the next day, as James Bevel attempted to calm them, African Americans brandished guns and knives. The marches grew, and by Monday, May 6, more than 2,000 demonstrators had been jailed, either in Birmingham or at the temporary site at the Alabama state fairgrounds. On Tuesday, police again met protesters with hoses and dogs, while journalists shot it all for newspapers and television. Governor George Wallace, an ardent segregationist, called out 500 state troopers. Angry at the whole affair, Kennedy sent in Burke Marshall to try and settle the conflict. After a KKK rally denouncing the agreement between business and civil rights leaders, two bombs went off at Martin Luther King’s brother’s home and at the Gaston Motel where King was staying. Violence erupted again and thirty-five blacks and five whites were injured as police pummeled blacks with clubs and rifles. President Kennedy, on the urging of his brother Robert, readied the National Guard just outside of Birmingham and threatened to send them into the city. This and other tactics finally ended the immediate violence in the streets. But on June 11, Governor Wallace would stand in the doorway of the University of Alabama, blocking entrance to two black students who had been admitted. Stepping aside because of threats from the federalized National Guard, the university became integrated for the first time in its history. Kennedy was so angered by events in Birmingham that he sent a new Civil Rights Bill to Congress on June 19, calling for the outlawing of all public segregation, allowing the attorney general to initiate suits for school integration, and granting the right to cut off funds to any federal program violating the new laws against segregation. To urge the passing of the bill, civil rights leaders marched on Washington on August 28, 1963, a march in which more than 250,000 people heard Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The Civil Rights Bill was signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964. And so the story that began with marching school children in Birmingham ended by having a major impact on the nation.
In “Ballad of Birmingham,” the little girl has a choice of either going to out to play, to a protest march, or to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church for Sunday services. But unlike the little girl in the poem, none of the four girls killed in the church blast on September 15 had such a choice. No freedom march was planned for that Sunday, a day of the week more often than not reserved for recuperation and religious worship. Randall brought into proximity two sets of events separated by a space of six months into one Sunday morning to make a key point: that though the church is usually the place of community, safety, salvation, and God–and the civil rights march often a locale of danger, death, and white attackers–the African-American church had become an even more dangerous place than the freedom march. Attacked in their homes and churches, with even their children being murdered, African Americans had no place of security–nowhere they could escape the ugliness of white America. With no acceptable place to turn, it became clearer and clearer that renewed and united confrontation with whites was black America’s only hope for deliverance. To gain any salvation in the world of the living, African Americans would have to keep up the pressure on whites by letting freedom sing–not just from choirs in the church, but from congregations in the streets.
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