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Transcript of James Baldwin
Harlem, New York
Died: December 1, 1987
Saint-Paul de Vence,
France ( age 63)
James Arthur Baldwin
"Anyone who ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor."
was the oldest of 9 children
grew up in poverty
father treated all his children poorly and James perhaps most severely.
believed himself ugly because his father called him 'frog eyes.'
stated that he was 'born in the church.'
was a Young Minister in the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly
became a bigger 'crowd puller' as a pastor than his father.
"Everybody's journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans considered it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality."
"It was a mask for self-hatred and despair. The transfiguring power of the Holy Ghost ended when the service ended, and salvation stopped at the church door. When we were told to love everybody, I had thought that mean
everybody. But no. It applied only to those who believed as we did, and it did not apply to white people at all."
'To be a negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.'
- James Baldwin
The Dick Cavett Show
by Jonathan Neal
Harlem Riot of 1943
Occurred on his 19th Birthday, August 2, 1943.
His stepfather's funeral took place that day.
the last of his siblings was born that day.
later he would recount his first hand experience in "Notes of a Native Son."
Essayist, Playright, Activist, and Novelist
"White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they achieve this -- which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never -- the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed."
Told a French interviewer once, 'I was born dead.'
Was the illigitimate first child of Emma Berdis Jones. She was not quite twenty and though she knew the name of James' true father, she never revealed it and he never knew. Emma married David Baldwin, a labourer and a minister, in 1927.
preached from 14 to 17 and then quit
sermons came from vanity and ambition
he used preaching to break his fathers hold on him
quit because 'There was no love in the church.'
would later describe himself as an Atheist.
around this time that he began to question his sexuality as well.
Social and Political Activism
"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
In 1948, disillusioned with the racial climate of America, James Baldwin moves to Paris, France.
Go Tell It on the Mountain ( semi-autobiographical novel; 1953)
The Amen Corner (play; 1954)
Notes of a Native Son (essays; 1955)
Giovanni's Room (novel; 1956)
Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (essays; 1961)
Another Country (novel; 1962)
A Talk to Teachers (essay; 1963)
The Fire Next Time (essays; 1963)
Blues for Mister Charlie (play; 1964)
Going to Meet the Man (stories; 1965)
Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (novel; 1968)
No Name in the Street (essays; 1972)
If Beale Street Could Talk (novel; 1974)
The Devil Finds Work (essays; 1976)
Just Above My Head (novel; 1979)
Jimmy's Blues (poems; 1983)
The Evidence of Things Not Seen (essays; 1985)
The Price of the Ticket (essays; 1985)
returned to the United States in the summer of 1957 after seeing an image of a young girl surrounded by a mob of people in an attempt to desegregate schools in Charlotte, N.C.
traveled to Charlotte, Atlanta (meeting Martin Luther King) Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama.
On May 17, 1963
magazine put him on the cover for his work as a spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement.
He took part in "The Great March on Washington" on August 28, 1963, where, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King delivered his historic "I have a Dream" speech.
"There is no other writer," said Time, "who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South."
“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death--ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”
James Baldwin died Nov. 30, 1987 of esophageal cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France and is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.
His mother, Emma Berdis, died Feb. 27, 1999 at the age of 95.
She is buried next to James.
Baldwin, James. The Devil Finds Work. New York: Dial Press, 1976.
Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room. New York: A Laurel Book, 1956.
Baldwin, James. Nation: The Root of the Negro Problem. Time, May, 17, 1963, http://
Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
Carr, Richard. “ Literary Arts Recognizes James Baldwin.”, Sun Sentinel, August 4,2004, http://
Field, Douglas. A Historical Guide to James Baldwin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
"James Baldwin," The Biography Channel website, http://www.biography.com/people/james-
baldwin-9196635 (accessed Mar 20, 2014).
“ James Baldwin Dies in France at 63”, The Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1987, http://
What significance did James Baldwin have in the Civil Rights Movement?
Which two minority groups did Baldwin affiliate himself with?
What was his impact on American literature?
To learn more...
Visit www.jamesbaldwin.org, a website established in his honor
Explore the PBS biographical web page of James Baldwin at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/james-baldwin/about-the-author/59/
Read some of his most famous works, such as
Go Tell it on the Mountain
The Evidence of Things Not Seen
In this clip one can easily see how James Baldwin's experience as a preacher influenced his ability as an orator as well.
Aug. 1, 1943, Robert Bandy, an African-American soldier in the U.S. Army home on leave, was shot in the shoulder by a white policeman after he stopped a policeman from hitting a woman that was being arrested for disturbing the peace, again.
The wound wasn't serious, but people gathered at the hospital where he was taken.
Someone shouted that the soldier had been killed and a riot was provoked.
The rioters, mostly African-American, looted and destroyed businesses (at the time, most were white-owned) throughout Harlem.
500 arrests were made (100 were women)
400 were wounded or injured
6 people were killed
8000 members of the New York State Guard were called in
6000 city policemen were involved
1500 Civilian volunteers, mostly African-Americans were employed to help break it up.
Order was restored on Aug. 3
Property damage reached around $5,000,000 ($68,949,408.28 in 2014)
"Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law."- from '
Notes of a Native Son'
"One has to reject, in toto, the implication that one is abnormal. That is a sociological and societal delusion that has no truth at all. I'm no more abnormal than Genearal Douglas MacArthur."
Though his sexuality was never really a secret, he didn't always feel that he needed to openly affirm it or that "it was anyone's business."
Interesting Photos and Friends
Met Marlon Brando in 1944 and the two were roommates for a time.
Upon his death close friend, Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison, wrote a eulogy for Baldwin, entitled "Life in His Language," that appeared in the New York Times.
Credited him for "setting the stage" for her 1969 autobiography
'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.'
James Baldwin and Medgar Evers
James Baldwin and Martin Luther King
Baldwin with Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, and Marlon Brando at Lincoln Memorial
Baldwin dancing with Lorraine Hansberry. She was a playwright most famous for 'A Raisin in the Sun.'
James Baldwin and Bob Dylan
In Istanbul, Turkey, smoking a hookah.
Maya Angelou called Baldwin her "brother and friend."
Drinking tea from a samovar in Istanbul, Turkey, 1965.
His personality was shaped by this environment. He was determined to make his way in this world by using his mind. There simply wasn't anything else to rely on.