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Transcript of Vintage Baldwin
and Rose Wolf
Introduction and Background
James Baldwin's Background
August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987
Born in Harlem, New York
Raised in a strict religious household
The oldest of nine children, family was set in poverty
Became a Pentacostal preacher at 14
Realized he was gay during his teen years, left for Paris at age 24 to get away from American prejudice
History of the Time
My Dungeon Shook:
Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation
Fifth Avenue, Uptown:
A Letter from Harlem
First appeared as a short story in 1957
Later was included in his 1965 book 'Going to Meet the Man'
Short film in 2001
Relatively long, narrative
Nobody Knows My Name:
A Letter from the South
The Discovery Of What It Means To Be An American
Writing Style and Literary Devices
Examining a societal problem by looking at the individual
Making a universal story personal, making a personal story universal
Flashes of memory: “When he started to walk, he walked from our mother straight to me. I caught him just before he fell when he took the first steps he ever took in this world.”
Anaphora: "I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I couldn't believe it, and I read it again."
Metaphor: "the baby brother I'd never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light." "housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea."
Biblical reference: "cup of trembling"
Woolworth's Lunch Counter sit-in
JFK sworn in
Voting Rights Act
March on Washington
Medgar Evers Murdered
MLK Jr. Assassinated
"The Radical Sixties"
Gay rights movement
Cultural Allusions in the Text
"You really are of another era, part of what happened when the Negro left the land and came into what the late E. Franklin Frazier called the "cities of destruction" (Page 4).
"I remembered Willie McGhee, Emmett Till, and the others" (Page 81).
"It was Bessie Smith, through her tone and her cadence, who helped me to . . . remember the things I had heard and seen and felt" (Page 192).
Overcoming suffering is hard and there is no one right way to do it
"I wish I could be like Mama and say the Lord's will be done, but I don't know it seems to me that trouble is the one thing that never does get stopped and I don't know what good it does to blame it on the Lord. But maybe it does some good if you believe it." 35
"But we just agreed that there's no way not to suffer. Isn't it better, then, just to - take it?" 66
the projects: "Some escaped the trap, most didn't." 38
"Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did."
Main Points/ The Heart
"For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become" (9).
"Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go" (7).
"The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off" (9).
"Let him laugh... Let him curse..." (4).
"The black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar" (8).
Issues Presented in the Essay
"You were not expected to aspire to excellence; you were expected to make peace with mediocrity" (7).
"There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them" (7).
"To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger" (8).
"And one of those stunted city trees is snarling where our doorway used to be" (10).
"Wide, filthy, hostile 5th Avenue, facing that project which hangs over the avenue like a monument to the folly, and the cowardice of good intentions" (12).
"Their children, a riot, a forest of children" (11).
"He moves through Harlem, therefore, like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country" (20).
"saddest, sweetest, most shamefaced of smiles" (13).
Issues Presented in the Essay
Types of "deaths" suffered by young people living in Harlem
Those who go to "meet the man"
"How extremely expensive it is to be poor; and if one is a member of a captive population, economically speaking, one's feet have simply been placed on the treadmill forever" (16).
Hatred of police
Main Ideas/ The Heart
"A ghetto can be improved in one way only: out of existence" (19).
"They do not move to Chicago, they move to the South Side. They do not move to New York, they move to Harlem" (22).
Big spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement
Died in France from cancer on December 1, 1987
National James Baldwin Literary Society
James Baldwin Scholar Program
Toni Morrison credits Baldwin as her literary inspiration
Published in Partisan Review in 1961
Result of interviews about desegregation in Charlotte, NC
Explains what the poor black community experienced, and how they looked at their situation
"And there they go, with an overwhelming sense of bitterness which they will dissemble in their lives, an unceasing effort which completes their ruin."
States that the term American is extremely difficult to define
Need a foreign or outside perspective
He formed relationships in Europe that he never could have in the States
Very critical of America and it's people
Negative remarks throughout his pieces
Baldwin's writing often includes the subject of race and issues that surround it, expressing that work still needs to be done to be rid of segregation. Unfortunately that is still true today...
"Among preschool children hospitalized for asthma, only 7 percent of black and 2 percent of Hispanic children, compared with 21 percent of white children, are prescribed routine medications to prevent future asthma-related hospitalizations."
"In spite of significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of most chronic diseases, there is evidence that racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive lower quality of care than nonminorities and that, patients of minority ethnicity experience greater morbidity and mortality from various chronic diseases than nonminorities."