During the American civil rights movement, every societal grouping had a role to play. Just like in any revolution, by virtue of sharing a common oppressed status, all classes of people would fraternise against common societal nemesis. During the French revolution, prominent philosophers like Montesquieu had a role to play, enlightening people of their political rights . Highly critical and articulate poets such as Voltaire would weigh in the struggle with insightful literary pieces aimed at instilling a sense of desire for change within the suffering povo. In the American civil rights movement, an African-American called James Baldwin also played a pivotal role in his capacity as an artist. Today, we want to find out who really was James Baldwin.
Who was James Baldwin?
James Baldwin, born James Arthur Baldwin, was born on August 2, 1924 in the American city of New York. Baldwin was a renowned American essayist, novelist, and playwright whose eloquence and passion on the subject of race relations in America made him an important voice, particularly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in the United States and, later, throughout much of western Europe. Baldwin penned the strife of people of colour in America, mostly capturing his own personal experiences as a lived reflection of past racial bigotries. A published author of a catalogue of novels including the best-selling; Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time Baldwin rose to prominence at a time when the institution of slavery was legalised.
Narrating the people’s struggle
Baldwin’s writing career began in the last years of legislated segregation; his fame as a social observer grew in tandem with the civil rights movement as he mirrored blacks’ aspirations, disappointments, and coping strategies in a hostile society. Tri-Quarterly contributor Robert A. Bone declared that Baldwin’s publications “have had a stunning impact on our cultural life” because the author “... succeeded in transposing the entire discussion of American race relations to the interior plane; it is a major breakthrough for the American imagination.” In his novels, plays, and essays alike, Baldwin explored the psychological implications of racism for both the oppressed and the oppressor. He made use of qualified diction and visual imagery to get the readers into proper perspective concerning the bitter theme of discrimination.
Critical review- A wordsmith of the people’s struggle
Poetic critics and art reviewers opine that, Baldwin brought life into the aspirations of the black woman in a racist American society. His relentless truths in both narration and information spoke to both the racistS and the victim. For the black man, Baldwin’s narratives are a classic overview of the evils of racial discrimination in the past and in the current. For the white reader who subjected the black people to racism, it bears critical evidence that can never be erased in the movement for civil rights in the U.S.A. In the College Language Association Journal, Therman B. O’Daniel called Baldwin “ …bold and courageous writer who is not afraid to search into the dark corners of our social consciences, and to force out into public view many of the hidden, sordid skeletons of our society…”
Getting out of America
For a greater part of his career, Baldwin lived abroad, in France or Istanbul. The rationale, he would say, was to avoid experiencing the emotional trauma of living in fear of being victimised and of actually being victimised. The transition from America was not necessarily a choice but the only viable option. In an interview with the Paris Review, Baldwin responded that, “It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge.” During the interview, Baldwin was cold enough to state that the French gave me what I could not get in America.
Calling for tranquillity and unity
After the assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, Baldwin returned to St. Paul de Vence, France, where he worked on a book about the disillusionment of the times, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974). Many responded to the harsh tone of If Beale Street Could Talk with accusations of bitterness – but even though Baldwin had encapsulated much of the anger of the times in his book, he always remained a constant advocate for universal love and brotherhood. In all of Baldwin’s works, lied the foundational themes of unity, peace and tranquillity. He would go from strength to strength, castigating the societal hypocrisies of the American past and the failure to decisively nurse the black people’s wounds in the present. James often called for a revisit on the American Dream in so far as the zeal to end racial inequalities is concerned. 21st century movements such as the #BlackLivesMatter must have been also catapulted by Baldwin’s writings, for he was consistently at pains portraying people of colour as actually free. For Baldwin, the society was not ready to deal with past catastrophes in as much as it was passionate about reliving the dark screenshots from the past.
James Baldwin finally met his maker in 1987 after penning a number of essays, articles, novels and poems about the black man’s struggle and the civil rights movement in America. James’ legacy as a literary genius has outlived his mortal existence. The Library of America places Baldwin as arguably the greatest black writers in America’s civil rights movement, stating that, Baldwin established himself as a prophetic voice of his era. Some such voices may grow fainter with the passage of time, but Baldwin remains an inescapable presence, not only a chronicler of his epoch but a thinker who helped shape it.
One of the great modern prose stylists, he applied his passion, wit, and relentlessly probing intelligence to the fault lines and false fronts of American society while remaining true to his early credo: “One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give.” Go Tell It on the Mountain, his first novel has long been considered an American classic. His writing prowess that he developed as a teenager made Baldwin rise from humble upbringings as a grandson of a slave, victim of a racist society to being one of the greatest writers of his time. James Baldwin was just, but an eloquent novelist with a sad story to tell.