James Baldwin

August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987

How does one sum up James Baldwin in a single, concise blog post?

He was an influential writer and activist who pondered and expounded upon what it meant to be black in the height of the American civil rights movement, what it meant to be gay long before societal acceptance had begun to take hold, and what it mean to be, frankly, human, in a century that saw progress and cyclical violence all at the same time.

Born and raised in Harlem, Baldwin’s life started out surrounded by all the tropes of a poor, black family in the early half of 20th Century America. Abuse, drugs and poverty all left their mark on him, but even as a young boy, he knew he had a gift that could carry him beyond whatever situation he was in. He fell in love with writing early and never looked back. He published his first article at 13 in a school paper and spent the next 50 years producing provocative and enlightening essays, plays and novels. In 1947, he emigrated to France to escape what he felt was not only an increasingly hostile racial landscape, but also a certain hopelessness he saw in other young, gay black men in the New York area. He lived in France for most of his adult life, returning to the U.S. for a period in the late 1950s. He also spend time in Switzerland and Turkey, but it was the South of France that drew him home.

Baldwin’s voice and influence still has a massive affect to this day. Throughout his life, he maintained close relationships with entertainers and writers like Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, Marlon Brando and Maya Angelou and inspired countless icons of later generations via print and film. On December 1, 1987, James Baldwin died of stomach cancer at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. He was buried back in New York where his mother would join him 12 years later.

Burial

Ferncliff Cemetery – Hartsdale, NY

Specific Location

Hillcrest A, Grave 1203; At the eastern edge of the Hillcrest section, James is buried close to the fence just past the 3rd tree south from the circle road.

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