James Baldwin

James Baldwin Picture

(1924-1987) American writer and activist.

James Baldwin was born the in Harlem, New York and was the eldest of nine children. As a youth Baldwin was verbally abused by his stepfather who often referred to him as the “ugliest child he had ever seen.” Baldwin attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he felt what he described as the “stigma of being Negro”. After graduating high school he worked a series of low paying jobs to support his siblings. As a youth Baldwin began to feel stifled by being both an African American in a racist society, and a gay man in the homophobic African American community. In 1948 at the age of 24 Baldwin decided to move to France to escape his unfortunate predicaments.  While in France Baldwin became an avid writer and poet. With the encouragement and constant support of his best friend and lover Lucien Happersberger, he was able to publish a number of poems and novels. In 1956, Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room, which told the story of a white man torn between his love for a man and a woman, brought him critical acclaim as a powerful American writer. Baldwin’s greatest influence on the life of his times stemmed from his numerous essay collections: Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1960), and The Fire Next Time (1963). Aside from literature, Baldwin was against the Vietnam War and an outspoken advocate of Gay and Lesbian Rights. He also made valuable contributions to the African American Civil Rights Movement.

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“The Icon History Display was created by a student intern and is not meant to replace a comprehensive search on these historical figures. Content on these biographies was created from the following sources: Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders by Keith Stern (2009); The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present by Paul Russell (1995). To suggest an addition or change contact us at gss@uis.edu or 217-206-8316.”