Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ramona Africa, Sole Survivor of the U.S. "City of Brotherly Love"'s Militaristic Warriors Bombing Supposedly Free Citizens in order to "evict" them: MOVE, 25 years ago on 13 May 2010ECD

[this protest poster featuring Ramona Africa is from here]

25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of a massive police operation in Philadelphia that culminated in the helicopter bombing of the headquarters of a radical group known as MOVE. The fire from the attack killed six adults and five children and destroyed sixty-five homes. Despite two grand jury investigations and a commission finding that top officials were grossly negligent, no one from city government was criminally charged. MOVE was a Philadelphia-based radical movement that was dedicated to black liberation and a back-to-nature lifestyle. It was founded by John Africa, and all its members took on the surname Africa. We hear from Mumia Abu-Jamal and speak with Ramona Africa, the only adult survivor of the bombing.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, journalist on death row in Pennsylvania. From a radio commentary recorded for
Ramona Africa, only adult member of MOVE to survive the 1985 bombing. She escaped with major burns by crawling through a basement window with a thirteen-year-old boy then known as Birdie Africa. Ramona went on to serve seven years in prison on a riot charge.

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of a massive police operation in Philadelphia that culminated in the helicopter bombing of the headquarters of a radical group known as MOVE. The fire from the attack killed six adults and five children and destroyed sixty-five homes, an entire neighborhood. Despite the two grand jury investigations and a commission finding that top officials were grossly negligent, no one from city government was criminally charged.

MOVE was a Philadelphia-based radical movement that was dedicated to black liberation and a back-to-nature lifestyle. It was founded by John Africa, and all its members took on the surname Africa.

We’ll be joined in a moment from Philadelphia by Ramona Africa. At the time of the bombing, she was the sole adult survivor in the house. She escaped with major burns by crawling through a basement window with a thirteen-year-old boy then known as Birdie Africa. Ramona went on to serve seven years in prison on a riot charge.

But first, here’s a clip from Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest commentary from death row.

May 13th at twenty-five. May 13th, 1985 is more than a day of infamy, when a city waged war on its own alleged citizens, but also when the city committed massacre and did so with perfect impunity, when babies were shot and burned alive with their mothers and fathers, and the killers rewarded with honors and pensions, while politicians talked and the media mediated mass murder. On that day, the city, armed and assisted by the US government, dropped a bomb on a house and called it law. The fire department watched buildings ignite like matches in the desert and cut off water. The courts of the land turned a blind eye, daubed mud in their socket, and prosecuted Ramona Africa for having the nerve to survive an urban holocaust, jailing her for the crime of not burning to death. Eleven men, women and children died, and not one killer was even charged with a misdemeanor.

But on that day, more than MOVE members died. The city died, too. Its politicians died, its media died, its courts died, and its churches and houses of worship died, for they ceased to function, and they served power and money. In a very real sense, the city massacred itself, for one’s faith in such institutions died. They became empty, hollow and dead, but for the shell. May 13th, 1985 is a day that shall live in infamy, but for far more reasons than the obvious. It was the death knell of a system committing suicide. It proved that a man called John Africa spoke powerful truths when he spoke about the nature of the system as corrupt, as flawed, as poisoned. Every day past that date has only proved it even more.

From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia Abu-Jamal also a former Philadelphia reporter, that commentary courtesy of the Prison Radio Project. 

Ramona Africa joins us now from Philadelphia on this twenty-fifth anniversary of the MOVE bombing.

Ramona, welcome to Democracy Now! Go back twenty-five years ago. You were the sole adult survivor of the police bombing, May 13th, 1985. Describe what happened as the bomb was falling on your house.

OK, the first thing I want people to understand is that that bombing did not happen because of some complaints from neighbors. This government had never cared about black folks complaining about their neighbors or any other people complaining about their neighbors. They bombed us because of our unrelenting fight for our family members, known as the MOVE 9, who have been in prison unjustly going on thirty-two years now, as a result of the August 8th, 1978 police attack on MOVE. I just wanted to make that clear.

In terms of the bombing, after being attacked the way we were, first with four deluge hoses by the fire department and then tons of tear gas, and then being shot at—the police admit to shooting over 10,000 rounds of bullets at us in the first ninety minutes—there was a lull. You know, it was quiet for a little bit. And then, without any warning at all, two members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s bomb squad got in a Pennsylvania state police helicopter and flew over our home and dropped a satchel containing C4, a powerful military explosive that no municipal police department has. They had to get it from the federal government, from the FBI. And without any announcement or warning or anything, they dropped that bomb on the roof of our home.

Now, at that point, we didn’t know exactly what they had done. We heard the loud explosion. The house kind of shook. But it never entered my mind that they dropped a bomb on us. But the bomb did in fact ignite a fire. And not long after that, it got very, very hot in the house, and the smoke was getting thicker. At first we thought it was tear gas. But as it got thicker, it became clear that this wasn’t tear gas, that this was something else. And then we could hear the trees outside of our house crackling and realized that our home was on fire. And we immediately tried to get our children, our animals, our dogs and cats, and ourselves out of that blazing inferno.

The adults were hollering out that we’re coming out, we’re bringing the children out. The children were hollering that they were coming out, that we were bringing them out. And we know that the police heard us. But the instant, the very instant, that we were visible to them, you know, trying to come out, they immediately opened fire. We were met with a barrage of police gunfire. And you could see it hitting all around us, all around the house. And it forced us back in to that blazing inferno, several times. And finally, you know, you’re in a position where either you choke to death and burn alive or you possibly are shot to death.

So we continued to try to get out of that house. And I got out. I got Birdie out. You could hear the shots hitting all around us. A cop grabbed Birdie, took him into custody, grabbed me, they threw me down on the ground and handcuffed, you know, me behind me, in the back of me. And I just knew that everybody else had gotten out. They were right behind me. And I didn’t find out until police took me to the homicide unit of the police administration building that there were no other survivors.

AMY GOODMAN: Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor. Six adults, five children killed that day. Juan, you were a reporter for thePhiladelphia Daily News.


AMY GOODMAN: You were there on the corner when this happened.

Yeah. Well, Ramona, as you recalled, it was a—it was May 13th, but it was a Sunday that year, and it was Mother’s Day. And I’ll never forget, because the confrontation started early in the day and went for most of the day, and I remember precisely when that helicopter dropped the C4, because I was about a block away with my fellow Philadelphia Daily News reporter and longtime friend Linn Washington. And we saw the helicopter hovering overhead, and we said, “What’s that helicopter doing?” But we didn’t understand what it was up to at that point. We turned around, when all of a sudden the explosion goes off.

But the aspect that many people are not aware of, that as that fire raged, we remember the fire trucks, as you mention, that had been hosing down the building beforehand, suddenly the firefighters were just ordered to stand down, and they allowed the fire to rage, I would estimate, for—it must have been about an hour. And of course, eventually, the flames not only destroyed your house, but then destroyed sixty-five other houses, all in the entire neighborhood. But the firemen just stood there, under orders not to douse the fire, because they were trying to basically force you out.

The other aspect of the story, I think, and as you mentioned, was what happened in the rear as they attempted to shoot the MOVE members as they went out, because the stories the next day, in my newspaper then, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, were, because basically they came from police sources, that the MOVE members had tried to shoot their way out, when it was actually a—it later clearly—your story was backed up by the commission, that basically the police ended up shooting you down—

RAMONA AFRICA: And by Birdie Africa.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —as you attempted to come out. And—but the—



RAMONA AFRICA: Why MOVE people talk about how this system intended to kill MOVE, that this was not an attempt to arrest. They came out there to literally wipe MOVE out, exterminate MOVE. People want to poo-poo us and act like, “Oh, you’re just taking it out.” But the fact that they deliberately shot at us as we tried to exit the building and the fact that you just brought up of how, you know, firefighters stood there and allowed that fire to burn, I defy people to tell me, you know, when William Richmond or really any other fire commissioner or firefighters had made a decision to let a fire burn in a building, a row house, where there are men, women, babies and animals inside. I mean, firefighters are known for running into burning buildings to save people. Now, William Richmond tried to excuse or explain away, you know, their actions by saying he wasn’t going to have his firefighters, you know, in danger or come under fire from MOVE. But for hours, when there was no fire, they put—they had four deluge hoses, each of which pump out 10,000 pounds of water pressure, according to them. They aimed those water hoses at our home for hours in the morning of May 13. Now, why wasn’t it a danger then? It’s only a danger when in fact there is a fire? I mean, it is very clear to any fairminded person looking at this situation that their intent was to kill. Wilson Goode said he wanted a permanent end to MOVE. That’s what he said.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, this was the second confrontation between the police and MOVE, following the 1978 shootout that occurred, where Police Officer Ramp was killed and where Delbert Africa was beaten senseless in front of all the television cameras as he attempted to surrender after that standoff. Could you talk about the impact—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —that that had on how you regarded, as you were in that house, what could happen to you?

Oh, absolutely, it had an impact on, you know, our realization of May 13th, 1985. We know that in 1978 they came out to kill MOVE then, too. I mean, you had cops testifying during the later trial that it was dark in the basement of MOVE headquarters in ‘78, so they couldn’t really see, but they emptied their guns, reloaded, and emptied them again in corners where they heard babies crying. Now, that’s not an attempt to kill? What crime had the babies committed, you know?

It is obvious that MOVE did not kill Officer James Ramp, by their own, you know, admissions. James Ramp was shot with the bullet traveling on a downward angle. That’s what the system’s medical examiner determined and stands by. How could anybody in a basement shoot somebody standing on street level above them on a downward angle? It’s physically impossible. Second of all, why would the city send a demolition team out within hours after arresting MOVE people and completely demolish the scene of the crime? Vital evidence in a murder case where a cop is killed. They would have preserved every bit of evidence they could get their hands on if they really believed that MOVE killed a cop, you know?

So we know what their intent was, and knowing that they were coming after us again, we knew that they were going to try to come stronger than they did in ‘78, because they were upset, they were angry, they were pissed off, that they had not killed MOVE in 1978. So, coming out there to Osage, you know, after MOVE again, we knew their intent was to really get the job done this time. It wasn’t about an arrest. Both situations, they keep using this word “eviction,” that they were coming out to evict MOVE. Since when are evictions held, you know, carried out, by hundreds of cops armed for war? In ’85, they had—

AMY GOODMAN: Ramona, we have five seconds.

RAMONA AFRICA: —nine-millimeter Uzis, .50-caliber machine guns. OK, well, they came out there with the weaponry of war. War. Their intent was to kill.

AMY GOODMAN: Ramona Africa, sole adult survivor of the May 13th, 1985 police MOVE bombing that killed eleven people, five of them children. That does it for our broadcast. Juan Gonzalez, a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News at the time. You can go to our website at to see some of the images.

A Profeminist Report on Male Supremacist Resistance to Gender Equality in Chile

[image of Chilean feminists marching is from here]

Please click on the Title just below in order to link back to the source webpage.

Gender Equity Progress Blocked by Hard-Core "Machismo"
By Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, May 14, 2010 (IPS) - More than 60 percent of Chileans surveyed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are opposed to full equality between women and men, according to a new national report released by the agency on Friday.

Pablo González, coordinator of the 2010 UNDP National Human Development Report from Chile, told IPS that the basic message of the study is the following: "Chile has made a great deal of progress with regard to gender equity, and people value this progress, but nonetheless, we have come up against entrenched pockets of resistance that will hinder further progress.

"Now it is important to tackle certain aspects resistant to change, which include the country’s culture, which is not egalitarian," added González, who presented the main findings of the study, subtitled "Gender: The Challenges of Equality", at a report launch held in the seat of the national government, currently led by right-wing President Sebastián Piñera.

A survey conducted by the UNDP in 2009, which served as the basis for the report, found that 62 percent of Chileans, both male and female, are opposed to full equality between the sexes.

Of this total, 18 percent are classified as "machista" - people who believe that men should have the power, give the orders and be the "breadwinners", while women should obey and limit themselves to their roles as mothers and wives.

Close to 80 percent of these "machistas" are men from lower socio-economic brackets, and most live in the southern region of the country, according to the study.

Another 18 percent of respondents are considered "traditional": they believe that men and women should complement and support one another while fulfilling their traditional roles. This group is made up primarily of people over the age of 50, and is evenly divided between men and women. They tend to be from the lower middle class and have strong religious ties.

The remainder of those resistant to full gender equality, who accounted for 26 percent of respondents, fall under the category of "pragmatists" – people who feel that gender roles can be modified when necessary, but that it is important to maintain the difference between the sexes and traditional morals. These pragmatists are mainly middle-aged and middle-class Chileans.

The other 38 percent of respondents, who do support the concept of gender equity, fall into two categories.

On the one hand, there are the "fighters", who made up 15 percent of respondents. The majority of them are women who feel that they essentially do everything, but it is men who have the advantages.

The remainder are classified as "liberal" (23 percent). In their opinion, there are no differences between the sexes, and everyone is equal and independent. Most members of this group are relatively young and from higher income brackets.

"Another hard core of resistance is shared responsibility for domestic tasks: women continue to do most or all of the household chores, which means that many women who have entered the job market essentially work a double shift," noted González.

In fact, a full 78 percent of the women surveyed by the UNDP reported that they are solely or mainly responsible for housework, while 52 percent of men responded that they "normally don’t do anything."

González stressed that different policies are needed to address the different realities faced by women in Chile.

Rural or urban women with precarious employment or "machista" husbands do not have the same needs as higher-income women who choose to stop working temporarily to devote themselves to raising children and subsequently find it difficult to re-enter the labour market, he said.

On the UNDP’s Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, education and income, Chile ranked in 44th place among 182 countries in 2009, thus classifying as a country with a "high" level of human development.

But when it comes to the Gender Empowerment Measure, also calculated by the UNDP, this South American country of 17 million people ranked 75th among 109 nations.

The continued inequality faced by women is illustrated by other statistics as well.

Women’s participation in the paid labour force rose from 32 percent to 49 percent between 1987 and 2006, but still lags behind other countries in Latin America.

Women also occupied only 22 percent of high-level political posts in Chile in 2009, in the legislative and executive branches as well as within political parties.

When it comes to the UNDP’s measure of women’s "economic power", the situation is even worse: only five percent of company managers, board members and executives in Chile are women.

Meanwhile, the UNDP report also found that between 2006 and 2009, during the administration of Chile’s first female president, socialist Michelle Bachelet, the largest number of bills related to gender equity were tabled in parliament compared to any other period since 1990, the year that democracy was restored after 17 years of dictatorship.

On Apr. 29, President Piñera announced the creation of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Women, Work and the Family. The committee has been given a 90-day mandate to study alternatives aimed at increasing women’s participation in the workforce while protecting the family and eliminating the obstacles that keep women from having children.

These include a proposal for longer and more flexible maternity leave, which is currently 84 days. (END)

To U.S.ers: Let Us All Speak Out in Solidarity: Mohawk Women Condemn Fascist Arizona Law

[image is from here]

This is a cross post from Censored News and Mohawk Nation News, and was found by me *here*.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mohawk Women Condemn Fascist Arizona Law

Mohawk Nation News

MNN. May 14, 2010. On November 7, 2007 the Women Title Holders presented the Mohawk position to the Indigenous ‘Border’ Summit held at the Tohono O’Odham Territory. A wall is being built through the middle by Mexico and the US. Arizona’s new illegal laws on racial profiling and censoring truth in Arizona is trying to declare war on Indigenous and international law. They are destined to lose.

TO: The invaders of Great Turtle Island, all their criminal agencies and their international terrorist allies.

RE: Rotino’shonni:onwe freedom to traverse Onowaregeh, Great Turtle Island, and beyond without hindrance from the invading aliens and their agents; and to conduct trade and commerce without interference.

PREAMBLE: Only we, the original peoples, have sovereign authority on Onowaregeh, Great Turtle Island. We cannot forfeit our natural birthright. We survived mass murder, chemical and biological warfare, starvation, physical and mental torture, lies, ignorance and genocide.

Fabricated colonial nations of Canada, US and Mexico and other corporate ‘franchises’ of Europe are squatting on Indigenous lands that leech off our peoples and resources.

WAMPUM 44 Kaianereh’kowa [our constitution]. We the Kohtihon’tia:kwenio – Women Title Holders – are the caretakers of the land, water and air of “Onowaregeh”; we have the duty to preserve and protect the land for the future generations.

a.WHEREAS the Two Row Wampum Agreement and Wampum 58 of the Kaianereh’kowa, the Great Law, stipulate that no one shall restrict our freedom of passage on our lands and beyond; these imaginary lines [borders] were created by foreign capitalist corporations named “Canada”, “US” and “Mexico”. They illegally usurped and divided up our lands and resources, without our knowledge or consent; and we will continue to assert our sovereignty and alliances among our nations as we have done since time immemorial.

b.WHEREAS respect for our rights to our land are acknowledged in the “constitutions” of Canada and the US; they are not sovereign because they can never have our land.

c.WHEREAS the Charter of the United Nations requires respect by all members for equal rights and self-determination of all peoples; and to resolve differences peacefully.

d.WHEREAS these three colonies must respect our political rights as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other international legal instruments.

e.WHEREAS General Assembly Resolution 1541 [XV] requires the informed consent of the people before they are included in another state, as affirmed by the international Court of Justice in the Western Sahara case. Sovereignty rests only with the people. We cannot become part of the colonial states that are squatting on our land. Canada, US and Mexico cannot force us to become citizens without our knowledge and consent.

f.WHEREAS according to article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sections 1 and 2, every nation has a right to its nationality; and no nation can change another nation’s identity by imposing restrictions to travel, trade and commerce throughout all of the Americas.

g.WHEREAS these immigrants to our lands are committed to uphold equality of all peoples.

h.WHEREAS Canada, US, Mexico and all other colonial states cannot legally encroach on the true Indigenous people; and our perspectives on us, our land, resources, air and water cannot be ignored.

i.WHEREAS foreign invaders cannot force us to carry alien passports and other identity; we have agreements and identification to travel the lands of our Indigenous allies. The “Haudenosaunee Passport” is for travel outside of Onowaregeh.

j.WHEREAS the Two Row Wampum Agreement provides we are free to pass and re-pass by land or inland navigation or by air onto our territories; to carry on trade and commerce with each other; we may hunt and fish anywhere on our territory; foreigners cannot extort taxes, duties or fees from us; and we shall have free passage over all toll roads and bridges that have been built on Onowaregeh.

k.WHEREAS human life is sacred to us; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that every human being has the inherent right to life and fundamental freedom; these three colonies must stop murdering and detaining our people for crossing their illegally imposed economic borders.

l.WHEREAS the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been adopted by a majority of 144 states; we claim as collectives and as individuals all the human rights and fundamental freedoms provided in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, without forced assimilation, destruction of our culture and undermining of our nations.

m.WHEREAS torture is intentional, premeditated, systemic and scientific; it is designed to break down our dignity, social fabric and foment terror within our Peoples.


Canada, US, Mexico and other colonial franchises must cease and desist their attempts to violate our authority; they must deal with us on a nation-to-nation basis as required by our inherent rights and international law; these foreign entities must go through proper diplomatic channels, which are the Governor General of Canada and the Presidents of the US and Mexico.


1.Respect our inherent rights, laws, ancient customs, traditions and agreements.

2.Be held responsible for murder, torture and theft, which are violations of the Great Law, Two Row Wampum, the first laws of the Americas and international law; disarm, stop detaining, murdering, torturing, raping and robbing us; and stop imposing their illegal judicial harassment and prison system on us.

3.Put away their guns and corporate by-laws so we can resolve our differences peacefully by rediscovering the spirit of the Two Row Wampum and the Covenant Chain that affirmed our international relationship centuries ago.

4.Disband their puppet band and tribal councils; restore proper diplomatic relations with our inherent traditional governments; and respect their agreements with us and their obligations under international law.

5.Abuse of people on any basis, especially race, religion, nationality, belief or membership in any social group in unacceptable; colonizers must become partners with us to end the cycle of abuse, criminalization of our people, and to extend dignity, equality and a voice to all.

6.We extend our message to all peoples oppressed by colonizing forces.


Kahentinetha, MNN Mohawk Nation News For more news, books, to donate and to sign up for MNN newsletters and to go to MNN Category “border”.

Store: Indigenous author – Kahnawake books – Mohawk Warriors Three – Warriors Hand Book – Rebuilding the Iroquois Confederacy.

Category: Border – Central/South America - World – Colonialism - Indian holocaust/genocide – Great Turtle Island – History – New World Order – courts/police Economics/trade/commerce – Land/environment – military/industrial complex.

Tags: North American Indians – Turtle Island – Indian holocaust/genocide – Canada/US/Mexico – NAU North American Union – History Canada/US – United Nations.

NOTE: This this matter was brought to the attention of Canada in an action in the Supreme Court of Canada – Kanion’ke:haka Kaianereh’ko:wa Kanon’ses”neh v. Attorney General of Canada and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario, Court File: 05-CV-030785.

The constitutional jurisdiction issue went before the U.S. Supreme Court. See No. 05-165: 2005. In re: Kanion’ke:haka Kaianereh’ko:wa Kanon’ses:ne, Non-party, Petitioner/Movant/Appellant, The Canadian St. Regis Band of Mohawk Indians, Plaintiffs, Respondents v. The State of New York, Defendants, Respondents, Petition for Writs of Certiorari and Quo Warranto with Prohibition and Mandamus in Aid to Prevent Genocide. Rules 17.1 and 20.1.

A Portion of "Nothing Personal" by James Baldwin, on love, and on the truth and the lie that is the United States

[photo portrait of James Baldwin above is from here]

I found the following passage written by him *here*. Let me know what you think/feel about it. Following it, is biographical information about the brilliant Mr. Baldwin from the same site as the image. He is my very favorite male human being as well as my favorite male writer. He is the man I most wish I had known in person.

"If a society permits one portion of its citizenry to be menaced or destroyed, then, very soon, no one in that society is safe. The forces thus released in the people can never be held in check, but run their devouring course, destroying the very foundations which it was imagined they would save.

But we are unbelievably ignorant concerning what goes on in our country--to say nothing of what goes on in the rest of the world--and appear to have become too timid to question what we are told. Our failure to trust one another deeply enough to be able to talk to one another has become so great that people with these questions in their hearts do not speak them; our opulence is so pervasive that people who are afraid to lose whatever they think they have persuade themselves of the truth of a lie, and help disseminate it; and God help the innocent here, that man or womn who simply wants to love, and be loved. Unless this would-be lover is able to replace his or her backbone with a steel rod, he or she is doomed. This is no place for love. I know that I am now expected to make a bow in the direction of those millions of unremarked, happy marriages all over America, but I am unable honestly to do so because I find nothing whatever in our moral and social climate--and I am now thinking particularly of the state of our children--to bear witness to their existence. I suspect that when we refer to these happy and so marvelously invisible people, we are simply being nostalgic concerning the happy, simple, God-fearing life which we imagine ourselves once to have lived. In any case, wherever love is found, it unfailingly makes itself felt in the individual, the personal authority of the individual. Judged by this standard, we are a loveless nation. The best that can be said is that some of us are struggling. And what we are struggling against is that death in the heart which leads not only to the shedding of blood, but which reduces human beings to corpses while they live."
— James Baldwin (Nothing Personal)

Although he spent a great deal of his life abroad, James Baldwin always remained a quintessentially American writer. Whether he was working in Paris or Istanbul, he never ceased to reflect on his experience as a black man in white America. In numerous essays, novels, plays, and public speeches, the eloquent voice of James Baldwin spoke of the pain and struggle of black Americans and the saving power of brotherhood.
James Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924. The oldest of nine children, he grew up in poverty, developing a troubled relationship with his strict, religious father. As a child, he cast about for a way to escape his circumstances. As he recalls, “I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” By the time he was fourteen, Baldwin was spending much of his time in libraries and had found his passion for writing.
During this early part of his life, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a preacher. Of those teen years, Baldwin recalled, “Those three years in the pulpit — I didn’t realize it then — that is what turned me into a writer, really, dealing with all that anguish and that despair and that beauty.” Many have noted the strong influence of the language of the church on Baldwin’s style, its cadences and tone. Eager to move on, Baldwin knew that if he left the pulpit he must also leave home, so at eighteen he took a job working for the New Jersey railroad.
After working for a short while with the railroad, Baldwin moved to Greenwich Village, where he came into contact with the well-known writer Richard Wright. Baldwin worked for a number of years as a freelance writer, working primarily on book reviews. Though Baldwin had not yet finished a novel, Wright helped to secure him a grant with which he could support himself as a writer in Paris. So, in 1948 Baldwin left for Paris, where he would find enough distance from the American society he grew up in to write about it.
After writing a number of pieces that were published in various magazines, Baldwin went to Switzerland to finish his first novel. Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953, was an autobiographical work about growing up in Harlem. The passion and depth with which he described the struggles of black Americans was unlike anything that had been written. Though not instantly recognized as such, Go Tell It on the Mountain has long been considered an American classic. Throughout the rest of the decade, Baldwin moved from Paris to New York to Istanbul, writing Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Giovanni’s Room (1956). Dealing with taboo themes in both books (interracial relationships and homosexuality, respectively), Baldwin was creating socially relevant and psychologically penetrating literature.
Being abroad gave Baldwin a perspective on his life and a solitary freedom to pursue his craft. “Once you find yourself in another civilization,” he notes, “you’re forced to examine your own.” In a sense, Baldwin’s travels brought him even closer to the social concerns of contemporary America. In the early 1960s, overwhelmed with a responsibility to the times, Baldwin returned to take part in the civil rights movement. Traveling throughout the South, he began work on an explosive work about black identity and the state of racial struggle, The Fire Next Time (1963). For many, Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time were an early and primary voice in the civil rights movement. Though at times criticized for his pacifist stance, Baldwin remained throughout the 1960s an important figure in that struggle.
After the assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, Baldwin returned to France where he worked on a book about the disillusionment of the times, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974). Many responded to the harsh tone of If Beale Street Could Talk with accusations of bitterness. But, even if Baldwin had encapsulated much of the anger of the times in his book, he always remained a constant advocate for universal love and brotherhood [Julian's note: and sisterhood; Baldwin, in my view, is one of the few male writers of his era who was intellectually and viscerally capable of understanding male supremacy, and who did, in fact, in life, respect women and speak out against white and Black masculinism]. During the last ten years of his life, Baldwin produced a number of important works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and turned to teaching as a new way of connecting with the young. By his death in 1987, James Baldwin had become one of the most important and vocal advocates for equality. From Go Tell It on the Mountain to The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), James Baldwin created works of literary beauty and depth that will remain essential parts of the American canon.

*          *          *

The essay, Nothing Personal, appears in several forms and collections. Here are some: