In our series maudern mavericks, we highlight the people who have pioneered sex education, reproductive and civil rights, and equitable health access. Meet the James Baldwin, a voice of both the Civil Rights Movement and homosexuality in America.
August 1924, Harlem, NY.
Openly bisexual writer and playwright who was a prominent voice of the Black experience during the Civil Rights Movement. He portrayed homosexuality and bisexuality in his work years before the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1970s.
Baldwin put dreams of higher education aside to support his mother and young siblings. He began to run in the circle of writer Richard Wright who helped him secure a fellowship in Paris. It was abroad where the young writer sharpened his voice and published his early works.
Works on Homosexuality
Knowing his own identity at a young age, the themes of sexuality were prominent in his works throughout his life. Baldwin’s second novel Giovanni’s Room showed a young American man in Europe and his relationships with men. Long before intersectionality and fluidity, Baldwin’s conversations around love and intimacy pushed beyond the binary.
The Civil Rights Movement
In 1957, after nearly a decade in Europe, Baldwin returned to the United States to join the Civil Rights Movement. Aligning himself with the Congress of Racial Equality, he began traveling and giving lectures to students promoting non-violent activism. He began to report on the movement—profiling leaders and interviewing citizens. Baldwin’s analysis and portrayal of racism and inequality were revered as one of the most important voices of the movement—landing him on the cover of Time in 1963.
During this time he produced The Fire Next Time, a collection of essays meant to educate the white population on Black America, and Nothing Personal, a book with friend and famous photographer Richard Avedon on the life of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evars.
Baldwin returned to France in the early 1970s. He lived there until he died in 1987.
More on James
Documentary, I Am Not Your Negro
James Baldwin Residence, NYC
James Baldwin, Biography by David A. Leeming
James Baldwin: Pessimist, Optimist, Hero, NYT
If Beale Street Could Talk, film by Barry Jenkins