James Baldwin Essay, Research Paper
James Baldwin was born in Harlem on August 2, 1924. His name at birth was James Arthur Jones. Baldwin never knew his father; his mother, who was originally from Maryland, was named Emma Burdis Jones. In 1927, she married David Baldwin, a Baptist preacher and factory worker from New Orleans with a twelve-year-old son, and thus the future writer received the last name that he was to make famous. Together the couple went on to have six children of their own, three sons and three daughters, the last of which was born on the same day that David Baldwin died, July 29, 1943.
In 1935, James entered Frederick Douglass Junior High School, where he wrote for and helped to edit the school magazine. From 1938 until his graduation in 1942, Baldwin attended De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx. He had a religious experience in 1938, and for the next three years was a boy preacher at Fireside Pentecostal Assembly, a phase of his life that ended at the time of his high-school graduation.
For the next several years, he worked at a variety of jobs, including waiting tables in Greenwich Village, where he had moved to further his artistic ambitions. In 1944, he met Richard Wright, author of the novel Native Son and the soon-to-be-published autobiography Black Boy, who encouraged his literary ambitions and recommended hi to his own publisher. Write allowed Baldwin the financial freedom he needed to concentrate solely on his writing.
In 1948 Baldwin moved to Paris where he joined a group of black writers and artists that included Chester Himes, Richard Wright and Ollie Harrington. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain in 1953, concerned a young boy coming to terms with the religious beliefs of his father. His second novel, Giovanni’s Room in 1956, is an account of an American living in Paris. In 1957 Baldwin return to the United States where he became involved in the struggle for civil rights. Baldwin quickly discovered that social conditions for African Americans had become even more bleak while he was abroad. As the 1960s began, and violence in the South elevated, he became increasingly outraged. His next three books concerned the issue of racism, which were published between 1961 and 1963, and included Nobody Knows My Name, Another Country, and a book on the Black Muslim separatist movement, The Fire Next Time. He followed this with a play about racist oppression, Blues for Mister Charlie in 1964 (Encyclopedia Britannica 2000, James Baldwin). Baldwin became known as the most eloquent literary spokesperson for the civil rights of African Americans.
The assassinations of three of Baldwin’s friends, civil rights marcher Medgar Evers, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and the black Muslim leader Malcolm X, shattered any hopes Baldwin maintained for racial reconciliation in the United States, and he returned to France in the early 1970s (Louis Pratt, 16). His wrote many works of fiction during this time including If Beale Street Could Talk, and Just Above My Head. His nonfiction writings of this period were more prevalent, and included No Name in the Street, The Devil Finds Work, which was an examination of African Americans in the motion picture industry, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen in 1985, a consideration of racial issues surrounding the Atlanta child murders of 1979 and 1980. He published a book of poetry, Jimmy’s Blues in 1985. In the late part of his career, despite poor reviews, neglect, and a widespread assumption that his time had passed, he was a productive writer of fiction and especially nonfiction to the end of his life. When diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in early 1987, he remained cheerful and active, even hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for friends and family only days before his death on December 1, 1987.