Although he spent a great deal of his life abroad, James Baldwin always remained a quintessentially American writer. He published 26 books, including the novels, Giovanni’s Room (1956) and Another Country (1962). He never ceased to reflect on his experience as a black man in white America. In numerous essays, novels, plays and public speeches, the eloquent voice of Baldwin spoke of the pain and struggle of African-Americans and the saving power of brotherhood.
In the early 1960s, overwhelmed by a sense of responsibility to the times, Baldwin returned to the USA take part in the Civil Rights Movement. Traveling throughout the South, he began work on an explosive work about black identity and racial struggle, The Fire Next Time (1963). It became a bestseller, and Baldwin ended up on the cover of Time Magazine.
The American Civil Rights Movement was not really open to LGBTQ people. The only known gay men in the movement were Baldwin and Bayard Rustin. Rustin and Martin Luther King, Jr. were very close, and Rustin was the architect of success of the March On Washington in August 1963. Many were bothered by Rustin’s gayness. King considered homosexuality to be a mental illness that could be overcome. King later distanced himself from Rustin and Baldwin. Baldwin was conspicuously uninvited to speak at the March On Washington.
Baldwin was harassed by the FBI, with an 1885-page file on his activities. Baldwin had a contentious relationship with the FBI, blaming violence in Birmingham during the spring of 1963 on J. Edgar Hoover. Baldwin even taunted the FBI by saying in interviews he was writing a book about their operation. The work never materialized, but the idea sent the FBI into a frenzy as it tried to get its hands on a manuscript.
“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”