The Biography Channel has just uploaded this fab mini biography of James Baldwin to its YouTube channel. Everything you always wanted to know about one of the world's greatest authors in less than four minutes.
From the 1940s until his death in 1987, the iconic novelist and essayist James Baldwin was at the center of the national conversation on race, social justice and civil rights. Next week, a previously uncollected series of Baldwin's speeches, book reviews, lectures, letters, magazine and essays will debut: The Cross of Redemption.
Not infrequently, James Baldwin found himself quite publicly fielding a
deeply presuming question. Though versions varied over time, the rough
paraphrase was this: "Was being born black, gay and poor a 'burden'?"
Did he ever wonder, "Why me?" A dynamic, trailblazing presence on erudite TV chat shows as well as a de facto talking head booked to parse the complex territory of the
Negro Problem, Baldwin was always ready with the not-so-inscrutable
smile, then the ice-water answer: "No. I thought I'd hit the jackpot."
Baldwin was also eerily intuitive on the advent of a Black president. "Bobby Kennedy recently made me the soul-stirring promise that one day—thirty years if I'm lucky—I can be President too. It never entered this boy's mind, I suppose—it has not entered the country's mind yet—that perhaps I wouldn't want to be.... what really exercises my mind is not this hypothetical day on which some other Negro 'first' will become the first Negro president. What I am really curious about is just what kind of country he will be president of?"
Strange times indeed. What's most fascinating about Baldwin is that his work addressed Black identity and gay consciousness issues before the Civil Rights Movement and/or Stonewall. It would be fascinating to hear what his take would be today.
In the two days since the loss of the legendary Lena Horne, plenty has been written about her entertainment legacy. There is also a renewed focus on Horne's legacy to the Civil Rights movement, which President Obama acknowledged in his statement.
Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post describes Horne as a "glamorous revolutionary" and an "infiltrator."
"[Horne] was, by any standard, gorgeous. But she knew
that the racial ambiguity of her looks allowed her to attain a level of
stardom that was inaccessible to singers and actors who conformed more
closely to white America's image of 'black.' ... Horne was always outspoken about civil rights. During World War II, she
complained about how black soldiers -- who had made her a popular pinup,
essentially the black Betty Grable -- were being treated in the
segregated Army. Her refusal to perform for segregated audiences got her
disinvited from USO tours. Horne blamed her activism and her associations for the waning of her
movie career after her MGM contract expired in 1950; actor Paul Robeson
and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, both known for their left-leaning views,
were among her good friends. There is no evidence that she was ever
actually blacklisted, however. Tastes changed, and musicals became
passe. By the time black actors began to get substantial dramatic roles
in the movies, Horne was past leading-lady age."
Democracy Now has produced a fascinating report on Horne's civil rights legacy. It includes her participation in the 1963 March on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King. Also detailed is Horne's meeting with Attorney
General Robert F. Kennedy alongside authors James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry—both of whom were gay.
The report heavily relies on a 1966 Horne interview with Pacifica Radio. Horne talks about being mentored: "Paul Robeson taught me to be proud because I was Negro. He sat me down for hours and told be about it.. I heard about it, saw it in some books, but they didn't teach it in school. They still don't teach in history books. He didn't talk to me about being a symbol of Negro pride singing in some club, he talked to me about my heritage. That's why I always loved him."
Meanwhile, Herndon essays the color of money in a new op-ed. "The black gay dollar is ignored and overlooked." Although mainstream (gay) advertisers often discount this multi-billion dollar niche, Davis notes that the black lgbt community has taken matters into its own hands, such as "numerous black gay themed books, magazines, movies and television shows—publications such as Clikque, tv shows such as Noah’s Arc, movies such as Brother to Brother and Ski Trip, and the thousands of black gay/lesbian themed books.
It's February and we all know what this means: Black History Month, when largely vanilla landscapes of homogenity are peppered with a little seasoning.
The February issue of Out devotes an entire page to James Baldwin! (Plus, let's not forget the interview with Vanessa Williams.) All jokes aside, it's a thorough retrospective, characterizing Baldwin as "one of the most important and searching of all American writers. His pioneering, novels and essays—22 books in all—were tremendously influential." The profile is uploaded here.