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Eddie Glaude Jr.’s ‘Begin Again’ reignites the words of James Baldwin

by Joe Martin

(This article was originally published by Real Change News and has been reprinted with permission.) 

It was the height of World War II. James Baldwin was a teenager in New York City when, in 1943, riots broke out in Detroit and in Harlem, Baldwin’s neighborhood. The lack of adequate housing, lack of jobs and hostility of the city’s police had precipitated the unrest in Detroit. In Harlem, a Black soldier had been shot in the back by a white police officer. Simmering anger over ongoing racism and its accompanying urban poverty exploded.

All this had a profound impact on the young, gay, Black man who aspired to be a writer. By 1948, it became apparent to Baldwin that he could not remain in the United States. His personal fury at the rampant injustices he and other people of color were daily subjected to forced him to confront unpleasant possibilities. He might murder someone or be murdered himself. His artistic ambitions could be shattered in the crucible of America’s meanness and contradictions. The situation was untenable. Baldwin left for France and would not return for nine years.

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