James Baldwin (1924-1987)

 “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

What I love about James Baldwin is how unapologetic he was… about everything.  He was not interested in being ashamed of his race, his sexuality, or his beliefs.  That would be amazing today, but Baldwin was this way in times that left his contemporaries cowing in shadows to the power structure that sought to keep people subjugated.

James Baldwin did not tolerate unequal treatment.  When he was denied service for being black, he left the country so as not to be defined by that blackness.  He spent most of his later life in France, but he returned to the United States in 1957 and worked with prominent civil rights leaders who were activating with the purpose of ending racial inequities.  He did not consider himself a Civil Rights leader, but his writings and support were important in propping up the cause.  Time magazine featured Baldwin on its cover and said of him “there is not another writer who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South.”

In 1970, James Baldwin settled in France.  He had established a legacy as a civil rights writer, in spite of his rejection of that definition, and now he became an important voice of the gay rights movement.  He was also friends with Nina Simone, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and Maya Angelou. Those who knew him in his life represent an amazing group of well known people from all disciplines, artists and politicians, anthropologists and poets.

James Baldwin Profile on PBS’ American Masters

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