James Baldwin and the Civil Rights Movement

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Traditionally, examination of the black Civil Rights movement focuses on the careers of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Dr. King and Malcolm X had very different ideas on how to solve the racial discrimination in America. Dr. King was an integrationist who used non-violent protest to focus the media on the moral wrongs the dominant white society imposed on blacks. Dr. King believed that exposing the outrages of segregation would force the government to mend the system. Malcolm X was a separationist who believed in fighting back when attacked and advocated that the blacks in this country should take what by all means is rightfully theirs. The white system was corrupt, argued Malcolm X, and blacks should start their own system rather than wait for the white society to internally fix theirs.

Somewhere in the middle of these two ideological extremes was James Baldwin. Baldwin's personal views were a mixture of both the ideas and ideals of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

Baldwin often struck the same chords that Malcolm X did. Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, wrote, "I was icily determined . . . to die and go to Hell before I would let any white man spit on me, before I would accept my 'place' in this republic" (Ticket 341). Baldwin himself saw many similarities between Malcolm X and himself (Ticket 358). Both Baldwin and Malcolm X were angry, intelligent black men who never let white society off the hook. Both were not willing to wait for white society to "solve" the Negro Question, and they both realized that the dominant white culture in America was not something they wanted to be a part of. Baldwin echoed Malcolm X when he wrote,

Things are as bad as the Muslims say they are -- in fact, they are worse. . . . There ...

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...The words of James Baldwin will be a major part of the human rights movement of the 1990s

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. Go Tell it on the Mountain. New York: Dell, 1952.

---. The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985. New York: St. Martin's, 1985.

Fanscott, Peter. "The Dilemma of a Native Son." Newsweek 14 Dec. 1987: 86.

Foner, Eric, and John A. Garraty, eds. The Reader's Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Friedrich, Otto. "Bearing Witness to the Truth." Time 14 Dec. 1987: 80-81.

"James Baldwin Debates the Black Muslims." Audiotape. Center for Cassette Studies, 1969.

James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket. Dir. Karen Thorsen. California Newsreel, 1990.

Solomon, Barbara Probst. "For James Baldwin." Dissent. Spring 1988: 219-222.

"The World I Never Made." Audiotape. National Press Club, 1986.

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