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
When I read the feature about Homegoing in Stylist magazine last year, I tore out the page as a reminder to get the book. I misplaced the page and months past… During a random clear out, the page floated down from my top shelf and in an act of spontaneity I went straight online and bought it! I think it was a sign, that the page came floating down from above lol.
I can’t believe this is Yaa Gyasi’s first book, the intricate research underpinning this novel is evident and impressive. Starting in 1700s Ghana, Homegoing travels the lives and lineage of two sisters (Effia and Esi) engulfed in the horrific mire of slavery, civil rights and freedom. This isn’t just another ‘slavery book’; Gyasi honestly depicts the role Africans played in the slave trade without diluting the brutality inflicted by Europeans.
Part of me wanted to read this book because it was set in Ghana, where my family is from. In 2004 I went to Cape Coast castle in Ghana which was one of the main slave ports of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Even then I could feel the heaviness of the lead-filled air in the dungeons. The tour continued, and we were taken to the church which sat on top of the dungeons. I was speechless as I walked in…a church sitting on top of the chained slaves ‘living’ in their own excrement.
I was intrigued to see how the lives of these two sisters would unfold. The story flows onto dissect the complexities of amalgamated families; the love and damage they inflict upon each other. At one point both sisters ‘lived’ in Cape Coast castle in starkly opposite conditions. Inevitably there is a mixed-raced character, the son of Effia and James (a British slave trader stationed at Cape Coast Castle) – Quey. Trying to deal with his own conflicts, Quey takes his destiny into his own hands and convolutes the family tree even further.
Across the three hundred years the novel covers, psychological and emotional knots of slavery, the raging wars between the Asante, Fante tribes and British colonisers, then flows into the realities of black life in America. From slavery on the hot plantations of Alabama, to the jazz clubs and crack epidemics of New York. The beginning of the end occurs in swanky art galleries and elitist halls of higher education. Homegoing makes history palpable in the present and is a prime example of they saying [paraphrased] we do not know were we are going unless we know where we are from.
Despite the sombre backdrop of slavery, this book took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. From the subtle expressions of love in the ugliest circumstances that made me smile to the vivid descriptions of brutality that made my stomach churn. Homegoing is a profound read that can capture anyone of any background, among the various themes throughout the novel is a tale of family. Intricately and intelligently written by first time author Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Alabama, USA. Homegoing is a must read and is available on Amazon.
The family is like the forest; if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position Akan proverb
There was a lot of hype around this book by ‘Charlamagne tha god’ (yes, this is the stage name he – Lenard McKelvey – gave himself back in the day. That’s the way he spells it too!). Co-host of the hit New York based, radio show The Breakfast Club, which I occasionally listen to, it’s fair to say Charlamagne is an acquired taste. From his own admission, a lot of people don’t like him, but those who listen to him do so because of his brutal honesty. Not to say that he doesn’t make stupid, ignorant comments sometimes, but he is brutally honest in his opinions which I respect to an extent.
Whether you don’t care about him, like him, love him, dislike him, hate him, want to punch him in the face – I don’t think anyone can deny that Charlamagne can evoke emotion on even the simplest of topics! It’s this personality that probably helped drive his debut book –
Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It
The book is an autobiographical concoction of Charlemagne’s early days, convoluted career path and the pearls of wisdom he picked up along the way.
“I want to speak to you about the village that raised me…how the spiritual legacy of the African slaves can still be felt in South Carolina four hundred years later”.
The book is split into 8 principles, including “5: Put the weed in the bag” and “6: Live your truth”. When you live your truth, it can’t be used against you, I think that’s a way of him saying embrace your ‘flaws’… In the book Charlemagne states that he looks like a teenage mutant ninja turtle. “By embracing my egg-shaped dome I’ve taken the ammunition away from people…by laughing at those comments instead of getting uptight, I’ve replaced a perceived weakness with power”.
As he’s a hip hop radio personality, hip hop culture and the music industry features throughout the book, including some of the most controversial interviews he has done including that “Kanye Kardashian” one. Charlemagne’s early years are quite predictable he was a good kid that went bad due to peer pressure, sold some drugs and did some stints in prison.
“So many of the mistakes I made could have been avoided.”
As the book progresses it’s his work ethic and ability to see the glass as half full that kept me engaged. Along with his brutal honesty of course. He talks about being bullied, being a bully, getting beaten up and working for free to get valuable work experience. He appears to be negative in some parts of the book like in principle 3: “F**K your dreams” but I found it a bit refreshing. Not that I don’t have hopes and dreams but I’m also a realist and a firm believer in finding your purpose and not doing something because everyone else is doing it. Not every black person is going to be an athlete, singer, video vixen or rapper and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to that even though the money is good IF it all works out.
“…the dreams you think are yours are actually somebody else’s. You’re only chasing them because you’ve seen them work for others.”
Charlemagne also talks about rising to fame and falling again, sleeping with his girlfriend / now wife’s cousin, the profound impact reading books have had on his life and criticisms of hip hop culture. For someone obsessed with hip hop culture the flaws of hip hop were probably difficult to admit. Sometimes you have to see something you love for what it really is. Various anecdotes are given, explaining how he has been able to push his way onto the screens of many.
“Exploring people and ideas outside your comfort zone is one area where hip-hop has been, unfortunately, very weak”.
The book starts well and gets you hooked, wanes a bit in the middle but has a consistent pace to keep you focussed on getting to the end. For his core audience the book is on point; for those who didn’t think it would offer much (like myself) the book showed someone who didn’t look like they had many prospects (no shade..), though faith, optimism and relentlessly pursuing his passion got to where he wanted to be. As the saying goes, “it takes years to become an overnight success”.
Speaking about the highs and lows of his early days, the virtues and flaws he realised in his parents are what humanised Charlemagne for me. Coming from living in a trailer in rural Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I can’t knock his hustle. Obviously, his story is from a young black hip-hop obsessed male’s perspective, which may put some people off. However, I didn’t expect much else because he is only speaking from his perspective. Some of his ‘pearls of wisdom’ may not necessarily be ground-breaking but described from his perspective introduces them in a new light that many can apply to their own situation – whatever it may be. Even those arguably outside his core audience (like me) who didn’t think would get much out of the book can get something from it – if willing to be open-minded.
As this was a book by an author that I never thought I would read, I was pleasantly surprised and would recommend this book. I’m a realist who admittedly who straddles the border line of pessimism (I’m working on this for 2018!). Reading this gave me the ‘elbow in the ribs’ reminder that the glass can be half full if I want it to be. This is not an endorsement of Charlemagne in general as I said he can say some stupid things at times. However, the book is a good read with the take home message, “embrace the concept that you are privileged [regardless of circumstance]. I believe in thepower and privilege of God.”