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English 355 Birmingham Sunday Presentation

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Martin Armenta

on 15 October 2012

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Transcript of English 355 Birmingham Sunday Presentation

"Birmingham Sunday" by Langston Hughes

Presenter: Martin Armenta Summary Hughes recollects the event that happened on September 15, 1963 to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Hughes’ entire “Birmingham Sunday” poem is in honor of the four little girls that passed away on that Bloody Sunday of September 15, 1963.
Also want to add that the poem was written two weeks after the incident. Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri and passed away on May 22, 1967 (four years after writing “Birmingham Sunday”.
Langston Hughes was a very powerful and well known poet in the Harlem Renaissance. He in fact was one of the founders of the cultural movement.
His founding of the Harlem Renaissance movement was after defining it in his essay titled “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926).
He attended high education universities in both Columbia University and Lincoln University
After dropping out of Columbia after his first year, he then started to travel and published his first book in 1926.
Hughes did not only write poetry but as well as stories, plays, and wrote in a column for the ‘Chicago Defender’. Author On Sunday September 15, 1963 the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed.
Four girls were killed in the church when bombing occurred; three 14 year olds and one 11 year old
Addie Mae Collins (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Carole Robertson (14), and Denise McNair (11)
The Tragic event marked a turning point in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement as well as contribution to support the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At the time before the bombing in May, a settlement was reached but not everyone was aboard to end segregation. The church itself was used as a meeting place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King J. R, Ralph David Abernathy, and Fred Shuttlesworth. It was also used as a rallying point for civil rights activities through the Spring of 1963. History Themes Innocence of youth
Impacts of the racially motivated terrorism bombing
A call to the African American society to rise up 1. Innocence of youth
"Four little girls" (L 1) "Four tiny girls" (L 15) "Four little girls" (L 24)
In these three lines Hughes keeps reminding that girls were much too young to be part of an incident such as the tragic one they were part of.
"Who went to Sunday School that day" (L 2)
The fact that Hughes tells us that the four little girls attended Sunday church school doing. Is significant because it tells the reader that they were doing what they were supposed to (responsibility) and worship and learn about god which gives a sense of innocence. It also paints a picture that they were not part of any type of violence, but good-deeds at that.
"And bloodied Sunday dresses" (L 7)
In this line Hughes depicts the girls were in their "Sunday dresses" while attending church and church school. It gives a sense of the innocent activity they were a part of.
"Four little girls
Might be awakened someday soon
by songs upon the breeze" (L 24-26)
In these few lines Hughes is saying that one day they would awaken by the gospel songs when God comes down and collects the innocence and well behaved. Children are always seen as innocent, and that if anything unfortunate ever happens to them they would automatically be welcomed by open arms in the gates of heaven. 2. Impacts of the racially motivated terrorism bombing.
"Four little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all" (L 1-3)
The impact of the bombing killed four little girls and so their families had to go through the tragedy of never having the chance to see them again.
"Four little girls
Who left their blood upon that wall,
In little graves today await" (L15-17)
The fact that the little girls were killed in the event, their families had to say goodbye to them and their faces and lay them in graves. 3. A call to the African American society to rise up.
In the last stanza
"The Dynamite that might ignite
The fuse of centuries of Dragon Kings" (L 18-19)
Hughes is saying in a very sleek way that the love of these innocent lives will become a call to African Americans (who are decedents of slavery as the Chinese peasants once were).
"The fuse of centuries of Dragon Kings
Whose tomorrow sings a hymn
The missionaries never taught Chinese
In Christian Sunday School" (L 19-22)
His call was to rise up like Dragon Kings to sing a battle hymn that was never taught by Christian church. (Note: a "hymn" is a song of praise) Tone Disgust
Sadness/Grief
Motivation 1. Disgust
"And bloodied dresses
Torn to shreds by dynamite
That China made aeons ago-" (L 7-9)
Gives a tone of disgust that these unnecessary explosive weapons were made for no necessary reason. 2. Sad/Grief
"Four little girls
...
Never came back home at all
But left instead
Their blood upon the wall" (L 1, 3-5)
These few lines gives an emotion of sadness or grief that because of this unexpected event these four innocent lives would never return back home.
"Four tiny girls
Who left their blood upon that wall,
In little graves today await" (L15-17)
These three lines gives a sad tone because it also gives an aspect of imagery that makes the reader imagine a funeral ceremony for the four lives that were taken. 3. Motivation
"The dynamite that might ignite
The fuse of centuries of Dragon Kings
Whose tomorrow sings a hymn" (L 18-20)
Similar to what was mentioned in a different slide, these few lines gives an empowering call to rise up and do something about what happened. To use the event and their loss as a "fuse" to "ignite" the rise of the African American segregated society. Imagery Hughes uses imagery to depict a vivid picture in mind
Patterns of imagery 1. Hughes uses imagery to depict a vivid picture in mind
"Blood upon the wall
With splattered flesh
And bloodied Sunday dresses
Torn to shreds by dynamite" (L5-8)

"Would redden with their blood
This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall." (L13-14)

"Four tiny girls
Who left their blood upon that wall," (L15-16)
Part of what the poem does is create a vivid mental picture for the reader that the reader is pulled into the event and becomes somewhat of a witness of the tragic and horrific event.
We are not even spared the image of pieces of flesh on a wall. 2. Patterns of Imagery
"Four little girls" (L 1)
"Four tiny girls" (L15)
"Four little girls" (L 24)
The pattern of starting the stanza's by reminding us that the lives that were taken were innocent children gives an emotional impact on the reader that they were truly too young to be taken away.
Also, the pattern of "little, tiny, little" seems to be a tool to depict innocence with "little" and the actual size of their young bodies for their graves with "tiny".
"And never came back home at all
But left instead
Their blood upon the wall" (L 3-5)

"Before China was ever Red at all
Would redden with their blood
This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall." (L 12-14)

"This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall.
Four tiny girls
Who left their blood upon that wall" (L 14-16)
These couple of lines in the first two stanza's have a pattern of having one line ending in "all" and after one line, the third line ends with "wall". The only exception of these few lines that were quoted are lines 14-16 that line 14 ends with wall and 16 ends with wall, but that's the last time in the poem that Hughes uses the same sound of words, and mentions the wall. Symbolism The color red
The wall(s)
China being red 1. The color red
"Their blood upon the wall" (L5)
"And bloodied Sunday dresses" (L 7)
"Would redden with their blood" (L13)
"Who left their blood upon that wall ( L16)
The color red is depicted throughout the piece signifying the blood shed of four young innocent lives.
The piece also mentions dynamite lines 8 and 18
"Torn to shreds by dynamite" (L 8)
"The dynamite that might ignite" (L 18)
which also makes me imagine the dynamite as red. (Cartoon influence) 2. The wall(s)
"Their blood upon the wall" (L5)
"This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall" (L14)
"Who left their blood upon that wall" (L16)
The piece consistently refers to the children's blood being splattered on the wall when we as the reader can't really imagine a specific wall after a bombing has taken place. So I believe the wall that Hughes mentions metaphorically is the Great Wall of China, and how the children's blood is on their hands (wall) due to the fact they created these explosives.
IF you combine lines 9-11 and lines 13-14, and simply disregard line 12 you get a much straight forward message of the blood being shed on the Great Wall of China
"That China made aeons ago-
Did not know
That what China made
...
Would redden with their blood
This Birminghamham-on-Sunday wall." 3. China being red
"Before China was ever Red at all" (L 12)
China had established their Republic that lead to having a connection with Soviet Russia. Then China's government was referred to as 'Red China' by the West. However, the color red is also the predominate color in the Chinese flag. Form Repetition
Parallelism
Open poem form 1. Repetition
There is a repetition of blood on a wall that kept giving me the tone of persuasion and motivation that the blood on the wall is on the murderers hands and that the African American society should rise up and fight so the lives of the four youths don't go unnoticed.
"Their blood upon the wall" (L 5)
"Would redden with their blood
This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall." (L 13-14)
"Who left their blood upon that wall" (L 16)
The repetition of bloody gruesome imagery also gives a sad tone to the piece that such innocence had to be part of such a tragic event.
"Their blood upon the wall
With spattered flesh
And bloodied Sunday dresses" (L 5-7)
Would redden with their blood
This Birmingham-on-Sunday wall." (L 13-14)
"Who left their blood upon the wall," (L 16) 2. Parallelism
"Four little girls" (L 1)
"Four tiny girls" (L 15)
"Four little girls" (L 24)
The first lines of the three stanza's show the innocence of the young lives that were taken by reminding the reader that they were little/tiny girls.
"Who went to Sunday Shcool that day" (L 2)
"Who left their blood upon that wall," (L 16)
The second line's of stanza 1 and stanza 2 sound very similar when first reading the first three words but they give two different tones.
When reading the first two lines of Stanza 1 you don't really have a clue of the real tone of the poem, you are not sure what you're reading.
When reading the first two lines of Stanza 2 on the other hand, you get the tone of how Hughes actually feels about the event: disgusted and sad. 3. Open poem form
The poem does have a shape to it with undeniable stanza divisions that make it easy to note which stanza is what, which makes it a definite closed form poem. However, the poem doesn't have a very easily identifiable pattern. You really have to look into the text to actually notice the patterns that were discussed earlier in the poem. Works Cited Section "About the 1963 Birmingham Bombing." About the 1963 Birmingham Bombing. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/randall/birmingham.htm>.

Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. “Battle Royal” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

"Langston Hughes Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. <http://www.biography.com/people/langston-hughes-9346313>.

Longhorn, Sandy, ed. "A Journal of Academic Writing." Milestone 6 (2010): n. pag. Pulaski Technical College. Web. <http://www.pulaskitech.edu/programs_of_study/milestones/2010_Milestones.pdf>.
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