It must be spelled out, as if for the first time, that police killings of unarmed black…
View Offer Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our complete 55 year archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 a month.
He moved to France at the age of twenty-four to avoid “becoming merely a Negro; or, even, merely a Negro writer.” Later he would recoil whenever someone described him as a spokesman for his race or for the civil rights movement.
He rejected political labels, sexual labels (“homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual are twentieth-century terms which, for me, really have very little meaning”), and questioned the notion of racial identity, an “invention” of paranoid, infantile minds.
If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.
You may also need to link your website account to your subscription, which you can do here.Although Baldwin continued to work through the late 1980s, his canonical works were all published during the 1950s and ’60s, and he is seldom associated with the post–civil rights era.Some ascribe this abrupt decline in his reputation to a falling out with the white literary establishment, who believed Baldwin sacrificed his promise for political and moral commitments to Black Power.To Eldridge Cleaver, Baldwin was a traitor, with a “grueling, agonizing, total hatred of the blacks, particularly of himself, and the most shameful, fanatical, fawning, sycophantic love of the whites.” British Immigration named him a persona non grata and J.Edgar Hoover, who kept a case file on Baldwin at the FBI that ran 1,884 pages long, declared him “a well-known pervert” and a threat to national security.Baldwin, for his part, accepted no characterization.“A real writer,” he wrote, “is always shifting and changing and searching.” The credo guided his work and his life.The “Terror in Atlanta” was a national media sensation.“Black death has never before elicited so much attention,” marveled Baldwin.Others argued just the opposite: Baldwin lost his place precisely because he refused to identify with the essentialist logic of identity politics and any of its associated movements.Still others believed his diminishment resulted from becoming bitter.