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James Baldwin’s Relevance To Current Civil Rights Activism

James Baldwin

James Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York on August 1, 1924. He was one of the most prominent writers of the 20th century. Mr. Baldwin’s first piece, Go Tell It on The Mountain, was published in 1953 and focuses on John, a 14-year-old boy. John was struggling to earn his stepfather minister’s love in 1930s Harlem. It was Mr. Baldwin’s most critically acclaimed piece. And, it also served as the foundation of his great literary career.

Activism Against Police Brutality

Mr. Baldwin wrote an essay entitled Reporting From Occupied Territory in 1966. This essay tells the story of Frank Stafford, a 31-year-old traveling salesman. Stafford witnesses the beating of an underaged black boy by two white police officers in Harlem. When Stafford asks the officers why they’re beating a child, they turn to beat Stafford. The salesman suffered a beating so bad that it cost him one of his eyes.

Civil unrest was rampant in the 1960’s. Especially as black Americans, like John Lewis, held civil rights protests. Police turned fire hoses and attack dogs on peacefully protesting black citizens across America. Furthermore, some of these black citizens included women and children. Reporting From Occupied Territory is a fictitious story. However, it is an accurate portrayal of police brutality against citizens protesting for their own humanity. Civil rights movements need written documentation. This powerful piece from Mr. Baldwin provides that documentation.

Mr. Baldwin’s Civil Rights Impact Can Be Felt Today

Mr. Baldwin’s impact on civil rights can be felt through his literary work. However, it can also be felt in other ways that are relevant today. Mr. Baldwin debated writer William F. Buckley Jr. on February 18, 1965, in Cambridge, England. As a result, this debate was part of a publicity tour for one of Mr. Baldwin’s books. The two were renowned intellectuals from different backgrounds and starkly contrasting views. Mr. Baldwin grew up as an impoverished advocate for civil rights. However, Mr. Buckley was born into wealth, maintaining white superiority over black people.

Mr. Baldwin explained that black people needed to value themselves within America’s white supremacist society.  Mr. Baldwin didn’t specifically say “black lives matter.” However, his ideas within this debate are identical to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Simply put, “the American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” 

Mr. Baldwin also used his fame to speak at rallies for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). In addition, he gave his speaking fees to the movement in the 1960’s. Financial backing has the biggest impact on any civil rights movement. That premise can be applied today as well. Many protesters are being unjustifiably arrested for peaceful protest. Meanwhile, donating towards these efforts can help them bond out of jail. Donations can go towards their legal representation fees. It can also go towards signs, water, or any other resource protesters will need.

For these reasons, James Baldwin was a true pioneer for civil rights. This is just one reason why minorities should vote in the upcoming election of 2020. His impact will be felt for generations to come. Visit Christian for news around the world.

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