Friday, February 3, 2017

Poetry Friday ~ Birmingham

It's Poetry Friday, and I am continuing to embrace the challenge of sharing something poetry each week.  Join Penny at Penny and Her Jots for the this week's round-up.

I have been reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham with my 6th graders.  Some days they read in groups.  Some days they read on their own, and some days I read to them. The days I get to read are my favorite because I get to choose the best chapters.  

Today I read the chapter when Kenny goes to Collier's Landing and finds himself in the middle of a whirlpool.  You could have heard a pen drop as they sat on the edge of their seats listening to every word.

Many of them have no idea what is about to hit them in the next chapter, the story of the Birmingham Church bombing.  This is another chapter where I get to read and watch their faces as a I tell about an ugly moment in our history.  Again, they will be hanging on my every word.

I like to pair the text with the poem, "The Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall.  I think this poem expresses the innocence of those four little girls who went to church to "sing in the children's choir."  

This poem certainly pushes me to think about and to compare life in 1963 to our lives in 2017.  Reading the two texts will surely leave them asking the question, "Just how much has changed?"

Ballad of Birmingham

Related Poem Content Details

(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?”


  1. Thanks for sharing a great text pairing, Leigh Anne. My throat always grows tight when I read Ballad of Birmingham. I vividly remember 1963.

  2. Wonderful pairing. How much has it changed. Frightening.

  3. It's good to share the two with your students, both are tragic, but that poem is heart-breaking.

  4. This poem breaks my heart. We must never forget the personal grief that politics bring.

  5. What a heart-rending poem. It does pair well with The Watsons Go to Birmingham. Thank you for teaching your students with such a compassionate view of history.

  6. I remember reading this book aloud to my daughter's class when she was in elementary school. I'm not familiar with "The Ballad of Birmingham." A powerful, personal glimpse of this tragic event. I love learning from others each Friday.

  7. That is a powerful poem to pair with this reading. I was glad that the little girl in the Watsons didn't die. Fiction can be kinder than history. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I'd never heard of The Watsons go to Birmingham until I started following American teachers and bloggers. Sadly this is a period in history that we just don't explore as deeply here, but thanks to my online network of colleagues I'm slowly filling in that void in my knowledge.

  9. I love all the stories from classrooms this week! Powerful stuff!

  10. The poem is heartbreaking. Thanks for sharing it. I can see how they're hanging on your every word.