America has been known for its counterculture personalities who addressed the issues of its day, whether it was Thomas Paine and Phillis Wheatley during the Revolutionary Period; Harriet Beecher Stowe, David Walker, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs during the Slavery Abolition Period; or the luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance that included Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson and Claude McKay, just to name a precious few. As the second half of the 20th century began to dawn, the names of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks and Chester Himes emerged.
During this month, the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” has been playing in theaters across the country. The late James Baldwin, one of the 20th century’s most eloquent counterculture writers and the subject of the Academy Award nominated film, delves into the questions of racial divisiveness in America and he offers answers. What is amazing is that Baldwin’s interpretation came fifty-five years before the documentary, after he wrote some of the world’s most incisive, yet perplexing, dissertations of being black in America. James Baldwin resisted labels of his work, which ranged from Jim Crow attitudes in both the North and South, to the hand wringing relationship between the Black Muslim movement and Christianity, to homosexuality and homophobia. He once debated noted conservative William Buckley in Great Britain on the topic of whether the American Dream adversely affected black people. The tense encounter, which by most observers was dominated by Baldwin, can be found on YouTube.
What James Baldwin proved during the ’60s was that protesting mistreatment from any segment of society could be forcefully addressed through the power of words, aggressive intelligence and class. Anybody listening?
MARC CURTIS LITTLE BLOG/Please leave a reply at www.marclittlewrites.com