Saturday, 2 August 2014

Born this day ... James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born on 2 August 1924. He was an essayist, a playwright and novelist who was particularly known for his essays on black experience. With his texts he educated white US-Americans on what it meant to be black. Baldwin encountered discrimination in public because he was African-American and witnessed much violence. He moved to France: "Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly...I am the grandson of a slave, and I am writer. I must deal with both." (via)

"If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that Americans consider it a disease says more about them then it says about homosexuality."

Baldwin was black and gay - two labels he refused to accept: "Those terms, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual are 20th-Century terms which, for me, really have very little meaning." (via). He was well aware of the difference between what it felt like to be 'white and gay' and 'black and gay': "I think white gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, in a society in which they were supposed to be safe. The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly."
James Baldwin died in exile on 1 December 1987.

"A Talk to Teachers", delivered on 16 October 1963 as "The Negro Child - His Self-Image":

(...) Now, if what I have tried to sketch has any validity, it becomes thoroughly clear, at least to me, that any Negro who is born in this country and undergoes the American educational system runs the risk of becoming schizophrenic. On the one hand he is born in the shadow of the stars and stripes and he is assured it represents a nation which has never lost a war. He pledges allegiance to that flag which guarantees “liberty and justice for all.” He is part of a country in which anyone can become president, and so forth. But on the other hand he is also assured by his country and his countrymen that he has never contributed anything to civilization – that his past is nothing more than a record of humiliations gladly endured. He is assumed by the republic that he, his father, his mother, and his ancestors were happy, shiftless, watermelon-eating darkies who loved Mr. Charlie and Miss Ann, that the value he has as a black man is proven by one thing only – his devotion to white people. If you think I am exaggerating, examine the myths which proliferate in this country about Negroes.

(...) Later on when you become a grocery boy or messenger and you try to enter one of those buildings a man says, “Go to the back door.” Still later, if you happen by some odd chance to have a friend in one of those buildings, the man says, “Where’s your package?” Now this by no means is the core of the matter. What I’m trying to get at is that by the time the Negro child has had, effectively, almost all the doors of opportunity slammed in his face, and there are very few things he can do about it. He can more or less accept it with an absolutely inarticulate and dangerous rage inside – all the more dangerous because it is never expressed. It is precisely those silent people whom white people see every day of their lives – I mean your porter and your maid, who never say anything more than “Yes Sir” and “No, Ma’am.” They will tell you it’s raining if that is what you want to hear, and they will tell you the sun is shining if that is what you want to hear. They really hate you – really hate you because in their eyes (and they’re right) you stand between them and life. I want to come back to that in a moment. It is the most sinister of the facts, I think, which we now face.

(...) What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic ancestors. It’s astounding to me, for example, that so many people really appear to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be free. That happens not to be true. What happened was that some people left Europe because they couldn’t stay there any longer and had to go someplace else to make it. That’s all. They were hungry, they were poor, they were convicts. Those who were making it in England, for example, did not get on the Mayflower. That’s how the country was settled. Not by Gary Cooper. Yet we have a whole race of people, a whole republic, who believe the myths to the point where even today they select political representatives, as far as I can tell, by how closely they resemble Gary Cooper. Now this is dangerously infantile, and it shows in every level of national life. When I was living in Europe, for example, one of the worst revelations to me was the way Americans walked around Europe buying this and buying that and insulting everybody – not even out of malice, just because they didn’t know any better. Well, that is the way they have always treated me. They weren’t cruel; they just didn’t know you were alive. They didn’t know you had any feelings.

For the full text click here

On 27 August 1963 thousands of US-Americans headed to Washington - it was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King delivered his speech "I Have a Dream". James Baldwin was "prevented from speaking at the march on the grounds that his comments would be too inflammatory" (via). The march was supported by celebrities such as, for instance, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte (via), Burt Lancaster, Josephine Baker, Joan Baez (via), James Garner, and Paul Newman (via).

23 seconds James Baldwin on YouTube: click

photos via and via and via and via and via and via


  1. Wow, Newman, Brando, Garner, Heston. Are you serious!? Great moments, thanks for posting this!

    1. These must have been very, very special moments.
      Thanks for passing by, Derek.

  2. Spunks and foxes all over the place!

  3. Abbie Winterburn2 August 2014 at 09:29

    Beau alarm! Oh my gosh.

  4. The league of extraordinarily handsome gentlemen ;-)