James Baldwin

James BaldwinJames Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

Speaking to the World Council of Churches in Uppsala, Sweden on July 7, 1968: “White Racism or World Community?” The audience was 704 representatives of 235 Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches, from around the world. This recording runs 29:34.

A few days later, on July 16, 1978, Baldwin appeared on the nationwide radio talk show, “Night Call” and was asked to talk about his remarks in Uppsala. This program runs 58:49.

Bio excerpts are from Wikipedia, 11/13/2012

Baldwin’s essays, such as the collection Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century America, and their inevitable if unnameable tensions with personal identity, assumptions, uncertainties, yearning, and questing. Some Baldwin essays are book-length, for instance The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976).


At age 14, Baldwin joined the Pentecostal Church and became a Pentecostal preacher. The difficulties of life, as well as his abusive stepfather, who was a preacher, delivered him to the church. During a euphoric prayer meeting, Baldwin converted, and soon became junior minister at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly. He drew larger crowds than his father did.
At 17, Baldwin came to view Christianity as falsely premised, however, and later regarded his time in the pulpit as a remedy to his personal crises. Still, his church experience significantly shaped his worldview and writing. For him, “being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked.”
Baldwin once visited Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam, who inquired about Baldwin’s religious beliefs. He answered, “I left the church 20 years ago and haven’t joined anything since.” Elijah asked, “And what are you now?” Baldwin explained, “I? Now? Nothing. I’m a writer. I like doing things alone.” (Baldwin viewed Muhammad’s religious beliefs, too, as misguided.)

Civil Rights

Baldwin returned to the United States from France in the summer of 1957 while the Civil Rights Act of that year was being debated in Congress. He had been powerfully moved by the image of a young girl braving a mob in an attempt to desegregate schools in Charlotte, N.C., and Partisan Review editor Philip Rahv had suggested he report on what was happening in the American south. Baldwin was nervous about the trip but he made it, interviewing people in Charlotte, Atlanta (where he met Martin Luther King,) and Montgomery, Alabama. The result was two essays, one published in Harper’s magazine (“The Hard Kind of Courage”,) the other in Partisan Review (“Nobody Knows My Name”.) Subsequent Baldwin articles on the movement appeared in Mademoiselle, Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, and the New Yorker, where in 1962 he published the essay he called “Down at the Cross” and the New Yorker called “Letter from a Region of My Mind”. Along with a shorter essay from The Progressive, the essay became The Fire Next Time.