TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: James Baldwin on Race and Justice in the United States


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One of the most celebrated American novelists of the 20th century was the brilliant Afrikan-American James Baldwin. Born poor in 1924, Baldwin grew up in Harlem in the unofficially segregated confines of New York City. Bristling against the borders of racial power and also against the restrictions of the Black church, Baldwin, who was gay, threw himself into the power of writing in order to understand himself and later to change the country in which he lived. He became famous for his debut novel Go Tell It On the Mountain, and chose to live for ten years in Europe where he had completed the manuscript in 1953. But in 1957 he returned to his birth country to aid in the struggle to desegregate schools.

Later, as Baldwin articulated in 1963’s The Fire Next Time, he became fascinated with Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, and like many prominent Afrikans in the US, he became the target of FBI surveillance. He continued writing throughout his life, authoring novels, collections of essays, plays, and the screenplay One Day When I Was Lost that although uncredited at his estate’s request, was the basis of Spike Lee’s screenplay for 1992’s Malcolm X. Eventually Baldwin became a professor, and in his writing continually warned that the threat and instability of Whitesupremacy would eventually bring down the United States. Baldwin died of stomach cancer on November 30, 1987.

Tonight’s discussion is a speech by James Baldwin in Berkeley, California, and was recorded April 19, 1979, for a lecture and open forum in his role as Regents Lecturer of the University of California at Berkeley. Professor William Banks, Chair of the Afro-American Studies Department in the U.C. Berkeley, begins the programme by explaining how Baldwin came to be a guest; he’s followed by academic and activist Angela Davis who introduces Baldwin and explains her relationship with him. Along the way, Davis refers to SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a major civil-human rights organising group in the 1960s.


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