Written in 1964, this is James Baldwin’s analysis of civil rights through his life. There are three main sections: (1) growing up in Harlem realizing that his future seems to be either making a living unscrupulously on the streets or running to the church, (2) conversations with the burgeoning Nation of Islam, and (3) thoughts on race relations in the past, present (i.e. 1963) and future. In the first section, Baldwin shuns God, concluding, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” While his opinion of humanity isn’t much better, he does believe people can overcome their need to feel superior and achieve equality, not by segregation, but by integration. It was really more optimistic than I expected in the end.
I think the most poignant part of the book was when Baldwin honors the black men and women who endured segregation because the country was not ready to integrate. They made the most of their lives for their children and themselves. He writes, “I am proud of these people not because of their color but because of their intelligence and their spiritual force and their beauty.” We should all be proud.