Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Day

Our University returns to school today. We always have classes on MLK Day, even though it is a Federal holiday.  I am glad, because I begin the semester with the freshmen by reading King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” which is a masterpiece of rhetorical writing as well as a clear statement of his beliefs about just and unjust laws, civil disobedience, and  non-violent direct action .   It helps to remember what the demonstrators were fighting against.

Later in the semester , we will be reading this poem:

 Ballad of Birmingham                By Dudley Randall 1914–2000

 (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?”


A Joyful Chaos said...

This poem gave me shivers. How awful for any mother to lose a child in such a sensless way.


Anne Higgins said...

Thank you for your comment. The poem gave me the shivers, too. Seeing film clips of the violence done to those Civil Rights demonstrators was heart-wrenching as well.

I visited your blog and was interested to see that you were raised Amish. My grandfather ( my mother's father) was also raised Amish... but he did not join the church as an adult. He married my Mennonite grandmother and they had my mother and her siblings... and then both parents died within two years of each other, back in 1922-24. I only discovered that I have a small army of Amish cousins in the last six years!