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Ballad of Birmingham Essay


Throughout the course of history, it has always been the case that, as time goes on; people tend to assess the significance of a particular historical event from qualitatively different perspectives. The validity of this statement, can be well explored in regards to the 1963 Newsweek’s article My God, You’re Not Even Safe in Church and Frank Sikora’s 1991 story Innocence Lost, concerned with the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, in Birmingham, Alabama.

The most easily notable difference between the article and the story is the fact that, as compared with Sikora’s story, the Newsweek’s article contains a plenty of terms, which now would have been deemed derogatory. For example, while speaking of the Birmingham’s Black residents, the article’s anonymous author never ceased referring to them as ‘Negroes’.

The reason for this is quite apparent – at the time when this article was being written, citizens were not required to adjust their public statements to be consistent with the conventions of political correctness. This also explains why there is not even a single mentioning of the term ‘Negro’ to be found in Sikora’s story.

The fact that, as opposed to what it happened to be the case with Sikora’s story, the Newsweek’s article does appear being affected by the considerations of political correctness, helps to explain another notable difference between both written pieces. This difference is being concerned with the discursive incompatibility between how Sikora, on the one hand, and the anonymous Newsweek’s author, on the other, went about emphasizing the event’s religious overtones.

For example, Sikora made a deliberate point in quoting the Cynthia Wesley’s (one of the girls that were killed by the blast) mother Gertrude, who suggested that the reason why his daughter was killed is that God favored her among others, as particularly beautiful, innocent and bright.

According to Gertrude, God decided to ‘pick’ Cynthia at such a young age because he wanted her to ‘blossom’ in the ‘kingdom of heaven’. Apparently, Sikora strived to make readers more or less emotionally comfortable with the death of four innocent girls, as having been a part of God’s ‘plan’.

The article’s author, on the other hand, strived for something opposite – namely, to expose the sheer irrelevancy of Christian fables, within the context of how people go about tackling life-challenges. This is the reason why in the Newsweek’s article, there can be found an emotionally disturbing remark about the fact that, in the bombing’s aftermath, police officers discovered a bloodstained kindergarten leaflet with “Dear God, we are sorry for the times when we were unkind” written on it.

In its turn, the article’s anti-religious sounding can be referred to as being reflective of a desire for an intellectual liberation, experienced by many Americans during the course of the sixties. Moreover, the article’s anti-religious overtones also suggest that, as opposed to what it being the case nowadays, during the course of sixties American journalists were not trying to exercise an extreme caution, when exploring subject matters, potentially capable of offending people’s religious feelings.

The fact that Sikora’s story and the Newsweek’s article were written in different historical periods can also be illustrated in relation to the manner, in which both authors expounded on the subject of racial tensions between African-Americans, on the one hand, and American Whites, on the other.

For example, while addressing this controversial topic, Sikora did not only strive to refrain from taking sides, but he actually wanted to represent the terrorist bombing of Birmingham’s Baptist Church as such that has been carried out by innately wicked individuals, regardless of what happened to be the color of their skin. This suggestion, of course, correlates with the politically correct assumption that crime has no color.

The author of the Newsweek’s article, on the other hand, proved himself much more intellectually honest, in this respect. This is because he did not only admit that the bombing of the ‘Black’ Church in Birmingham was a result of a prolonged confrontation between the city’s White and Black residents, but he also showed that the residents’ attitudes towards the bombing, correlated perfectly well with the particulars of their racial affiliation.

Therefore, we can only confirm the validity of a suggestion that there is indeed much of a difference to how both written pieces reflect upon the significance of the same historical event. In its turn, this difference appears to reflect the ideological specifics of both authors’ upbringing.

There can be very little doubt as to the fact Sikora and the anonymous author of the Newsweek’s article did succeed in providing readers with a plenty of factual information, as to what was the actual reason behind the bombing of Birmingham’s Baptist Church in 1963 – namely, the city White residents’ unwillingness to treat Black residents as equal.

Nevertheless, the reading of both written pieces will not prove particularly enlightening for those Americans who seek to find an answer, as to how the outbreaks of racist violence in America can be prevented from occurring in the future.

This is because both authors appear to have regarded this horrible event, as being solely the consequence of Birmingham authorities’ failure to effectively address their professional duties. The same, however, cannot be said about Dudley Randall’s 1966 poem Ballad of Birmingham, which provides us with the qualitatively new perspective on what caused the bombing of Birmingham’s Baptist Church to occur, in the first place.

After all, the foremost message that is being conveyed by this particular poem can be formulated as follows: it was specifically many overly religious African-Americans’ unwillingness to adopt a firm stance, while defending their civil rights, which caused Birmingham’s White racists to dare to carry out their hatred-driven terrorist attack.

The most memorable part of this poem is when the mother of the one of four black girls, killed in the bombing (presumably Gertrude Wesley), urges her daughter not to attend Freedom March, while suggesting that she would be much better off attending Church, as a thoroughly safe place, where there are no guns and violence.

This alone implies that Gertrude may be held partially responsible for Cynthia’s death. There is, however, even more to it – apparently, Randall wanted to say that when Black people act in a selfish manner, while seeking ‘safety’, as their foremost priority, they do not only increase their own chance to fall victims to racism, but they also undermine the Black community’s overall ability to protect its members from being victimized.

Therefore, despite the Randall poem’s apparent shortness, it appears to be much more ideologically powerful than the earlier mentioned Sikora’s story and the Newsweek’s article, because it contains a thoroughly valid clue as to what needs to be done, in order for the racism-fueled outbreaks of violence to be effectively dealt with.

Partially, this can be explained by the fact that, while promoting the earlier outlined idea, Randall decided in favor of a poetic format. Apparently, the utilization of this format is being more suitable, when the conveyance of emotionally charged messages is being concerned.

This is because; whereas, Sikora and the anonymous Newsweek’s author strived to advocate the principle of racial tolerance rationally, Randall attempted to promote the same principle, while relying on his awareness of what accounts for the subconscious workings of one’s psyche.

Apparently, he knew perfectly well that, once readers are being encouraged to relate to a particular historical event emotionally, they would be much more likely to recognize similar events-in-making and consequently – to adopt a proper stance towards what they perceive as potentially dangerous social developments. Therefore, I believe that, as compared to the reading of Sikora’s story and the Newsweek’s article, the reading of

Randall’s poem should prove much more insightful for those who seek to gain a better understanding of the Birmingham Baptist Church’s bombing. This is because by being exposed to Randall poem, readers get to experience what it was like being an individual, personally affected by this horrible event. In its turn, such readers’ newly acquired awareness should make them more capable of combating racism, every time when it sticks out its ugly head.

At the same time, however, it would be wrong to refer to the article and the story as being ‘inferior’ to Randall’s poem. In fact, all three literary pieces supplement each other. After all, without having read the article and the story, I would not be aware of the discursive aspects of the Church’s bombing in Birmingham. Alternatively, without having been exposed to Randall’s poem, I would not know how I could put such my awareness into a practical use.

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"Ballad of Birmingham." IvyPanda, 22 Nov. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/ballad-of-birmingham/.

1. IvyPanda. "Ballad of Birmingham." November 22, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ballad-of-birmingham/.


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IvyPanda. "Ballad of Birmingham." November 22, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ballad-of-birmingham/.

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IvyPanda. 2018. "Ballad of Birmingham." November 22, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ballad-of-birmingham/.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'Ballad of Birmingham'. 22 November.

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