- Jeremy Wells
"... NOT Your Negro." - James Baldwin
As an author, James Balwin wrote one of the novels that become an Academy Award winning movie: 'If Beale Street Could Talk'. He was also a playwright and like many of our other legends, a well spoken activist for black and gay people with novels and plays that fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures that thwart the equitable integration of these communities into societal norms. Born on August 2nd, a leo, to Emma Berdis Jones and an unnamed biological father, she left him because of drug abuse and went on to marry a Baptist preacher by the name of David Baldwin. James grew up in a poor household with nine other siblings and was treated the worst out of all of them. He isolated himself in libraries, away from his burdening step-father and there discovered his talent and passion for writing. Among some of his first works were the writing of the official song for his school and a play that was actually put on by his peers and directed by one of his teachers.
During his teenage years, Baldwin followed his stepfather's shadow into the religious life. However, he became dissatisfied with ministry, considering it hypocritical and racist, and ultimately left the church because his father's expectation was that he be a preacher. He later converted from Baptist to Pentecostal and became a junior minister whose word reached out and drew many more people than his step father on his best day. During this time he had dated and fallen in love with Lucien Happersberger until the man got married to someone else three years later after they met. He later praised religion where it inspired people to fight against oppression, and heavily criticized it for it's perpetuation of hatred. He once wrote, "If the concept of God has any use, it is to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God can't do that, it's time we got rid of him." Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room, caused great controversy when it was first published in 1956 due to its explicit homoerotic content and disappointed people with the predominantly white characters until 'Another Country' in 1962 and 'Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone' in 1968 were works dealing with both black and white characters and with heterosexual, gay, and bisexual characters. After 'Down at the Cross' in 1963, Baldwin's next book-length essay, 'No Name in the Street', discussed his own experience in the context of the later 1960s, specifically the assassinations of three of his personal friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
James' activism includes conducting a lecture tour of the South for Congress of Racial Equality in 1963. With Sidney Poitier, a prominent appearance at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, despite the civil rights movement being extremely harsh on homosexuals. This year, as we march in the San Diego Pride Parade, let us channel the ability to care fiercely for ourselves and our opinions, have the courage to speak not for what the public needs to hear, but for what we need to say, as James Baldwin has said: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."