Remembering James Baldwin

Remembering James Baldwin

Eli Teeter , Writer

Considered by some to be one of the worthiest and most influential Black figures of the 20th century, James Baldwin was as masterful an author as he was an illustrious, insightful activist. His voice is one that raged for over half a century, and still resonates with concurrent generations. Directly, we will explore the life and works of Baldwin, and continue to marvel at his prowess as we celebrate Black History Month.

Born on August 2nd, 1924 in Harlem, Baldwin was raised at a time where the color of his skin was seen as a form of undeniable wickedness. As he grew from boy to man, he saw the inequities that scorched the landscape of America; he attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, and it was here that his academic expansion flourished. Throughout his early life, he prepared and cultivated the grit needed to succeed within such disenfranchisement, he even spent time as a young Christian preacher, from the age of fourteen to the age of sixteen. Once his adulthood began he worked many dead-end jobs to make ends meet, but continued to entangle himself into study; this would lead to his eventual literary apprenticeship, further maturing his mental capacity of understanding.

In 1948, Baldwin left the United States to live and study abroad in Paris, where he stayed for eight years of his life. It was there in Paris that Baldwin began to make quite a name for himself. There he wrote many of his first works, such as Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), a series of essays titled Notes of a Native Son (1955), and Giovanni’s Room (1956).

By the time he had returned to the States in 57’, the country was in civil unrest and the progression of equality among races was towering to new heights, the likes of which had never been seen before among Americans. Faces such as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, and Malcom X took up great significance within the movement and swept the nation with their voices. Long awaited change was taking shape in America.

Baldwin uniquely combined intelligence, analytics, and ethics to mend minds nationally. He introduced a perspective which attacked ignorance with intellect, misconception with reason, resentment with compassion; he fought fire with water, and washed away the flame. Baldwin did not simply fight the oppression, he triumphantly opened the inner motives of the opposing side and confronted the reasoning behind them. Baldwin challenged both sides to understand one another in a civil but ingenious way.

The passionate eloquence of his achievements cemented the success of his message and the context it resembles is strikingly relevant within modern America and modern society as a whole. His novels and essays are timeless, with such a magnificence it is unfeasible to ignore the impact. Although James Balwin lost his battle with cancer on December 1st, 1987, he continued to win the hearts and minds of those from every corner of every home. He continued to create to the point of his untimely death, but the fact of the matter is this: Baldwin’s life work not only traversed and conquered decades of injustice but fastened a trail for future generations to live by, paving the way for a sustainable future for all.

“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

-James Baldwin