From Newsweek: The Fire This Time — Baldwin’s newly collected essays pack as much firepower as ever.
When I play reverse time travel and imagine historical figures turning up today (what would Ben Franklin say about the iPad? Or Jane Austen about Jersey Shore?, etc.), James Baldwin’s name comes to mind. The essayist and novelist spent four decades picking at the scab of American race relations. He could be incendiary, but at his best he was sly, writing with a sharply ironic sensibility that gave him one of the most distinctive voices of the early postwar years. In part because he warned that the country’s inability to solve its racial problems could bring about its downfall—“Carthage” was the specter he invoked—he was tagged, and seemed happy to be tagged, the American Jeremiah.
All of which makes you wonder: what would the preacher turned secular prophet, the implacable critic of America’s treatment of blacks, think of the fact that America has elected a black president? A timely answer can be found in The Cross of Redemption, a new anthology of his previously uncollected essays and public letters. In a 1961 speech, he told his audience that Bobby Kennedy had made him “the soul-stirring promise that one day—thirty years, if I’m lucky—I can be president too.” Baldwin seemed amused that RFK hadn’t considered that he might not want to be president. “And in any case, what really exercises my mind is not this hypothetical day on which some other Negro ‘first’ will become the first Negro President. What I am really curious about is just what kind of country he’ll be President of.”
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