"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." ~ James Baldwin
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

James Baldwin

“I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.”

Novelist, essayist and activist James Arthur Baldwin was born August 2, 1924 in Harlem, taking the name of his step-father, David Baldwin, a storefront Pentecostal preacher. The younger Baldwin also preached as a teenager, and his early experiences are the basis of his semi-autobiographical first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1954).

After living in Greenwich Village for several years where he studied at The New School and met author Richard Wright, Baldwin moved to Paris, France, to escape the prejudice he experienced being African American and homosexual in America. The title of his first collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son (1955), pays tribute to Wright's work Native Son, although the two were not close in later years.
"People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned."

Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room (1956), deals with themes of homosexuality, as do other of his later works. In 1957 he returned to the states to lend his voice to the emerging civil rights movement as efforts were being made toward school desegregation throughout the south. A second edition of essays, Nobody Knows My Name (1961), topped the best-seller lists with over a million copies sold, and his third, The Fire Next Time (1963), was aimed at educating the white American public on what it means to be black in America.
"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time."
Baldwin worked with both the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He lectured extensively for CORE on college campuses and to other mixed audiences, speaking from an ideological point between the moderation of Martin Luther King Jr. and the more radical viewpoint of Malcolm X. He also participated in the March on Washington in August 1963 with long-time friends Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando.
"The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world's definitions."
In addition to novels and essays, Baldwin also wrote two stage plays. The Amen Corner (1955), set in the Pentecostal church of his youth, and Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), based on the Emmitt Till murder.

In Baldwin's later years he taught creative writing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and at Hampshire College. He died in St. Paul-de-Vence, France, on November 30 or December 1, 1987 at the age of 63.
"Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor." 
"The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose." 
"It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."

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