James Baldwin Collection

A black writer before the Civil Rights movement; a gay writer in homophobic mid-century America; James Baldwin was a passionate maverick stylist who was swept into the destructive arena of politics.

Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924, the eldest of a large family. His father died when he was 19. "On the same day," Baldwin wrote in Notes of a Native Son (1955), "a few hours later, his last child was born.

Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father's funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker's chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem... As we drove him to the graveyard, the spoils of injustice, anarchy, discontent, and hatred were all around us."