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At the age of 14 he attended meetings of the Pentecostal Church and, during a euphoric prayer meeting, he converted and became a junior minister.

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Before long, at the Fireside Pentecostal Assembly, he was drawing larger crowds than his stepfather had done in his day. At 17, however, Baldwin came to view Christianity as based on false premises and later regarded his time in the pulpit as a way of overcoming his personal crises. Baldwin once visited Elijah Muhammad , leader of the Nation of Islam , who inquired about Baldwin's religious beliefs. He answered, "I left the church 20 years ago and haven't joined anything since.

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I'm a writer. I like doing things alone. Baldwin accused Christianity of reinforcing the system of American slavery by palliating the pangs of oppression and delaying salvation until a promised afterlife. If God can't do that, it's time we got rid of him. When Baldwin was 15 years old, his high-school running buddy, Emile Capouya, skipped school one day and, in Greenwich Village, met Beauford Delaney , a painter. Delaney became a mentor to Baldwin and under his influence Baldwin came to believe a black person could be an artist. While working odd jobs, Baldwin wrote short stories, essays, and book reviews, some of them later collected in the volume Notes of a Native Son He befriended the actor Marlon Brando in and the two were roommates for a time.

During his teenage years Baldwin started to realize that he was gay. In , in New Jersey, he walked into a restaurant where he knew he would be denied service. When the waitress explained that African Americans were not served there, Baldwin threw a glass of water at her, which shattered against the mirror behind the bar. He wanted to distance himself from American prejudice and see himself and his writing outside an African-American context.

Baldwin did not want to be read as "merely a Negro; or, even, merely a Negro writer. In Paris, Baldwin was soon involved in the cultural radicalism of the Left Bank. He started to publish his work in literary anthologies, notably Zero , [29] which was edited by his friend Themistocles Hoetis and which had already published essays by Richard Wright.

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Baldwin lived in France for most of his later life. He also spent some time in Switzerland and Turkey. American painter Beauford Delaney made Baldwin's house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence his second home, often setting up his easel in the garden. Delaney painted several colorful portraits of Baldwin. Nall also befriended Baldwin during this time. Actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier were also regular house guests.

I'd read his books and I liked and respected what he had to say. When I got to know him better, Jimmy and I opened up to each other. We became great friends. We'd get comfy in that beautiful, big house and he would tell us all sorts of stories He was a great man. His years in Saint-Paul-de-Vence were also years of work. Sitting in front of his sturdy typewriter, his days were devoted to writing and to answering the huge amount of mail he received from all over the world.

Davis " in November Baldwin's first published work, a review of the writer Maxim Gorky , appeared in The Nation in His first collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son appeared two years later. He continued to experiment with literary forms throughout his career, publishing poetry and plays as well as the fiction and essays for which he was known. Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room , caused great controversy when it was first published in due to its explicit homoerotic content.

Baldwin's lengthy essay "Down at the Cross" frequently called The Fire Next Time after the title of the book in which it was published [42] similarly showed the seething discontent of the s in novel form. The essay originally was published in two oversized issues of The New Yorker and landed Baldwin on the cover of Time magazine in while he was touring the South speaking about the restive Civil Rights Movement. Around the time of publication of The Fire Next Time , Baldwin became a known spokesperson for civil rights and a celebrity noted for championing the cause of black Americans.

He frequently appeared on television and delivered speeches on college campuses. After publication, several black nationalists criticized Baldwin for his conciliatory attitude. They questioned whether his message of love and understanding would do much to change race relations in America. Baldwin's essays never stopped articulating the anger and frustration felt by real-life black Americans with more clarity and style than any other writer of his generation.

Baldwin's writings of the s and s largely have been overlooked by critics, though even these texts are beginning to receive attention. Always true to his own convictions rather than to the tastes of others, Baldwin continued to write what he wanted to write. As he had been the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, he became an inspirational figure for the emerging gay rights movement. He concluded his career by publishing a volume of poetry, Jimmy's Blues , as well as another book-length essay, The Evidence of Things Not Seen , an extended meditation inspired by the Atlanta child murders of the early s.

Baldwin returned to the United States in the summer of while civil rights legislation of that year was being debated in Congress.

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He had been powerfully moved by the image of a young girl, Dorothy Counts , braving a mob in an attempt to desegregate schools in Charlotte , North Carolina , and Partisan Review editor Philip Rahv had suggested he report on what was happening in the American south. Baldwin was nervous about the trip but he made it, interviewing people in Charlotte where he met Martin Luther King Jr.

Joining CORE gave him the opportunity to travel across the American South lecturing on his views of racial inequality.

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His insights into both the North and South gave him a unique perspective on the racial problems the United States was facing. During the tour, he lectured to students, white liberals, and anyone else listening about his racial ideology, an ideological position between the "muscular approach" of Malcolm X and the nonviolent program of Martin Luther King, Jr.

By the spring of , the mainstream press began to recognize Baldwin's incisive analysis of white racism and his eloquent descriptions of the Negro's pain and frustration. In fact, Time featured Baldwin on the cover of its May 17, issue. Edgar Hoover , Mississippi Senator James Eastland , and President Kennedy for failing to use "the great prestige of his office as the moral forum which it can be.

The delegation included Kenneth B. Clark, a psychologist who had played a key role in the Brown v. Board of Education decision; actor Harry Belafonte , singer Lena Horne , writer Lorraine Hansberry , and activists from civil rights organizations. James Baldwin's FBI file contains 1, pages of documents, collected from until the early s. The only known gay men in the movement were James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin. Rustin and King were very close, as Rustin received credit for the success of the March on Washington. Many were bothered by Rustin's sexual orientation.

King himself spoke on the topic of sexual orientation in a school editorial column during his college years, and in reply to a letter during the s, where he treated it as a mental illness which an individual could overcome. The pressure later resulted in King distancing himself from both men. At the time, Baldwin was neither in the closet nor open to the public about his sexual orientation.

Later on, Baldwin was conspicuously uninvited to speak at the end of the March on Washington.

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After a bomb exploded in a Birmingham church three weeks after the March on Washington, Baldwin called for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience in response to this "terrifying crisis. After his day of watching, he spoke in a crowded church, blaming Washington—"the good white people on the hill. He blamed the Kennedys for not acting. Nonetheless, he rejected the label "civil rights activist", or that he had participated in a civil rights movement , instead agreeing with Malcolm X 's assertion that if one is a citizen, one should not have to fight for one's civil rights.

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  • As a young man, Baldwin's poetry teacher was Countee Cullen. A great influence on Baldwin was the painter Beauford Delaney. In a warmer time, a less blasphemous place, he would have been recognized as my teacher and I as his pupil. He became, for me, an example of courage and integrity, humility and passion. An absolute integrity: I saw him shaken many times and I lived to see him broken but I never saw him bow. Later support came from Richard Wright , whom Baldwin called "the greatest black writer in the world. Saxon Memorial Award. In Baldwin's essay "Everybody's Protest Novel", however, he indicated that Native Son , like Harriet Beecher Stowe 's Uncle Tom's Cabin , lacked credible characters and psychological complexity, and the friendship between the two authors ended. I was not attacking him; I was trying to clarify something for myself.