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​James Baldwin debates Malcolm X (1963)

​James Baldwin Q&A at U.C. Berkeley (1974)

​James Baldwin  -  Q&A at U.C. Berkeley (1974) Part 2

​James Baldwin debates William Buckley (1965)

​James Baldwin and Dick Gregory discussion (1969)

​James Baldwin - Mini Bio

​The Great James Baldwin

James Baldwin   1924-1987








"I want to be an honest man and a good writer,"  James Baldwin once wrote.  He was both of these things--and much more.  He wrote honestly about his deepest personal feelings.  He dared to be honest about existing race relations in America.  And, James Baldwin became one of the best writers of all times.

James Baldwin grew up in Harlem, New York City.  His father was a preacher who was strict, and the family was very poor.  Mrs. Baldwin cleaned houses, while James helped care for his younger brothers and sisters.  James had two great pleasures--books and school.  He loved to read all the time.  And, his teachers soon began to recognize his genius.

During his high school years, James was a preacher.  After high school, he left home and stopped preaching.  He moved to Greenwich Village, a part of New York City where many artists and writers lived.  He soon was able to have his writings published.  But most Americans thought of him as "only a Negro writer."  Baldwin wanted to be known for his talent not his race.

In 1948, Baldwin won an important award, the Rosenwald Fellowship.  He decided to use this money to move to Paris, France.  There he could live cheaply and have time to write.  Baldwin also knew that Blacks in France were treated much better than those in the United States.

His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953.  The book was a great success and made Baldwin very famous.  In 1955, he published Notes of a Native Son, a book about his own life and ideas.  More novels followed: Giovanni's Room in 1956, Nobody Knows My Name in 1961, and Another Country in 1962.

Several well-known magazines asked Baldwin to write about the growing Civil Rights Movement, so he took a trip to the American South.  There he met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and heard him speak.  From then on, Baldwin gave much of his time and money to the civil rights cause.

In 1963, Baldwin published a book of essays about race relations in America, The Fire Next Time.  The book shocked many white people.  But it made some white people understand racism that was like a deadly disease.  Another important work of Baldwin's was his play, Blues for Mr. Charlie (1964).  The play was about the murder of a Black man by a White police officer, and the anger that Blacks felt as a result of this killing. Baldwin continued to write about Black anger and feelings of despair in Going to Meet the Man in 1965, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone in 1968, No Name in the Street in 1972, and If Beale Street Could Talk in 1974.

Although he often wrote about discrimination and Black anger, Baldwin was a believer in nonviolence.  Dr. King and his followers practiced nonviolence.  Dr. King and his followers practiced nonviolence as they bravely fought against injustice.

James Baldwin was also a strong believer in the family.  All his life, Baldwin supported his mother and helped his brothers and sisters and their children.  The family grew closer as Baldwin's fame grew.  The importance of faith, love, and family was revealed in many of Baldwin's writings.  The family was especially important in his last book, Just Above My Head (1979).  The book tells the life story of a Black gospel singer.  This book also contained some of Baldwin's own experiences as a young preacher and an active civil rights worker.

James Baldwin died on December 1, 1987.  During his life, he won many honors.  He is still famous and known all over the world as a great writer and strong voice for Black Americans.


Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage Historic Blacks in the Arts.


This is only a summary of the life of the great  James Baldwin.