Known for his direct yet poetic approach to debate, James Baldwin became a prominent voice in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. His work is still heralded as some of the most forward-thinking of its time.
Baldwin spent the majority of his adult life abroad penning a variety of works, from essays to novels, and engaging in public debate on the matters of freedom, Black liberation, and justice.
Raised in Harlem as the oldest of nine children, Baldwin discovered a new and empowering social environment when he traveled to Paris in his early twenties, one which empowered his introspective work.
He soon became involved with the civil rights movement in the United States, working with leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. Following the assassinations of those three friends, Baldwin became an even more vocal critic of the times with works like If Beale Street Could Talk and The Evidence of Things Not Seen.
Baldwin, who saw his personal mission as bearing “witness to the truth,” was often characterized by his opponents as being un-American, to which he replied: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Baldwin passed in 1987 but his literary legacy still informs civil rights work today.