Use of the Nation of Islam in Down at the Cross

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The Use of the Nation of Islam in “Down at the Cross” Like his essay “Notes of a Native Son,” James Baldwin’s “Down at the Cross” offers a three-part essay involving Baldwin’s personal adolescent experience, a specific event in Baldwin’s life, and a final analysis concluding with a warning to the readers. Baldwin describes a general experience throughout his life, and his sense of the public’s overall experience, to discuss the progression of America throughout history; the progression of America is the advancement of the American Negro according to Baldwin: “[The American Negro] is the key figure in his country, and the American future is precisely as bright or as dark as his” (Baldwin 340). The Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, play an important role in Baldwin’s analysis. Baldwin’s early religious involvement prepare him for his experience at Muhammad’s residence, and his combined experiences instigate reflections upon the progress of black and white America since the emancipation of blacks during the Civil War. Baldwin begins his essay with a recount of his childhood, growing up black in a nation which considered itself white. Baldwin explains the uphill battle fought by every American Negro, how many “were clearly headed for the Avenue” (Baldwin 296) of whores, pimps, and racketeers. Baldwin argues that the American Negro was doomed to remain in the same state in which he or she was brought into the world, just as “girls were destined to gain as much weight as their mothers, the boys … would rise no higher than their fathers” (Baldwin 298). Even an education would not rescue one from “the man’s” oppression. The man, of course, is the white man who “would never, by the operation of any generous human feel... ... middle of paper ... ...ns of the consequences if America fails the journey: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!” (Baldwin 347). Works Cited Baldwin, James. “Down at the Cross.” 1963. James Baldwin: Collected Essays. Ed. Toni Morrison. New York: Library of America, 1998. 63-84. “Cultist is Slain Battling Police.” New York Times 29 Apr. 1962, sec. 1: 72. Dodoo, Jan. Nation of Islam. 29 May 2001. U of Virginia. 17 Mar. 2004 Kihss, Peter. “In Return for Years of Slavery, Four or Five States.” New York Times 23 Apr. 1961, sec. 7: 406. Quarles, Benjamin. “Lincoln’s The Black Muslims in America.” Rev. of The Black Muslims in America, by C. Eric Lincoln. Journal of Negro History. Vol. XLVI, No. 3 (1961): 198-199. White, Jack E. “An Unlikely Prophet.” Time 13 Dec. 1999: 103+

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