James Baldwin’s unfinished business
Few writers’ words still resonate thirty years after their death, but James Baldwin was no ordinary writer. It’s believed that Baldwin died of cancer on 1 December 1987 aged 63 while starting, what is now his final manuscript – Remember This House. Comprising only 30 pages at the time of his death, the focus of this manuscript were personal recollections of the lives and assassinations of 3 juggernauts of the civil rights movement in America – Martin Luther King Jr,. Malcom X and Medgar Evers.
The lives of the former two have been compared throughout history. The ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X even came up during the commentary surrounding Marvel’s Black Panther movie, directed by Ryan Coogler. The ideologies of Black Panther (T’Challa – played by Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Kilmonger (played by Michael B Jordan) were likened to the two civil rights activists. Some thought Kilmonger’s desire to arm all oppressed people so they could protect themselves reflected Malcom X’s rhetoric. While T’Challa’s (what some would deem) measured approach was like that of Martin Luther King Jr.
I watched two men, coming from unimaginably different backgrounds, whose positions, originally, were poles apart, driven closer and closer together. By the time each died, their positions had become virtually the same position. It can be said, indeed, that Martin picked up Malcolm’s burden, articulated the vision which Malcolm had begun to see, and for which he paid with his life – James Baldwin in a 1963 TV interview
Medgar Evers died on 12th June 1963; a World War II veteran and university graduate, Medgar Evers was instrumental in overturning segregation laws at the University of Mississippi, public facilities and collating evidence from witnesses in the Emmitt Till murder case. Malcom X died on 21st February 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. died on 4th April 1968. All three of these civil rights activists were killed within a 5 year period and none of them lived to see their 40th birthdays.
In his array of writings and novels where he documents the civil rights movement, Baldwin’s words are still pertinent today. Events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement and similar situations, played out over social media is testament to this. When the civil rights movement started there was no social media, now we all have front row seats to witness injustice and oppression. While there has been progress, there is still some way to go for black lives to be seen as equal to others of the human race. There’s still unfinished business to handle…
Clip from 1963 where James Baldwin is asked about his view on the future of America.
“The future of the Negro in this country, is precisely as bright or dark as the future of the country. James Baldwin
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Featured image credit: Screenshot from ‘I am not your Negro’ trailer YouTube