James Baldwin died on December 1st, 1987. He was poor, black and gay at a time when being any one of those would have made life difficult enough. He became an important 20th Century American writer - of essays as well as novels - and yet, modishness being what it is, he's very under-attended and seems little regarded today. I was reminded of his importance, not least in shaping public consciousness about the Civil Rights struggle, by finding his book Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961) when I was researching Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell. Among much else, Baldwin writes there with great perspicacity and passion about his own first impressions of visiting McTell's home state of Georgia.
This video section is actually not about Malcolm X, but about growing up in Harlem, New York, as the son of a southern family. He's as likeable as he is mesmerising, and to see this clip now is also to see just how much TV has dumbed down. It's not that he's a writer and therefore A Cut Above Your Average Talking Head: rather, that his care of expression and his moderate tone both seem remote, now, from how anyone on television, writer or no, ever chooses to comport themselves:
I admire this too, again for its tone, his comportment:
I wish he was still alive. He'd be in his late 80s and he'd still be interesting.