James Baldwin & Me

No matter how often I replace old books with new books, two never get stored away: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and my original copy of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain.

I keep TKAM for an obvious reason: it’s my favorite book. I keep GTIOTM because James Baldwin’s masterpiece guided my journey.

Go Tell It On The Mountain was published in 1953; I read it in 1987. Soon after becoming an adult, I realized how much I didn’t know. And while I paid close attention to conversations between adults — especially between the adults in my own family, I knew that learning beyond these talks was my responsibility.

Allow me to humbly say that the greatest thing about being a part of an extended family that loves to talk about history, politics, and current events, is being a part of an extended family that loves to talk about history, politics, and current events. I learned so much through osmosis.

On a visit with a friend to the Oakridge Mall in 1987, I saw and bought a biography about James Baldwin in Walden Books. There was something about the cover photo that drew me in. His face; his eyes. After reading the biography, I read Go Tell It On The Mountain, and a few others: Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and The Fire The Next Time. Baldwin was the catalyst for my affair with reading. I owe him so much.

Today, I went to see I Am Not Your Negro. It‘s an unfinished story written by James Baldwin about his friendships with Civil Rights’ leaders Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Filmmaker, Raoul Peck, envisions the book James Baldwin never finished.

Baldwin’s words and eyes continue to draw me in. He was a captivating erudite, whose name should be remembered with the likes of those he cared so much about.

Every once in a while, when I hold my copy of Go Tell It On The Mountain, I think about how young I was when I first held it in my hands, and how much I didn’t know; I think about the journey that began with Baldwin; I think about all of the books in between, and those I’ll never get to; I think about all that I’ve yet to learn; and I think about the future of books in this digital age.

There is something about holding a book in your hands. I’ve always preferred to hold one in mine – just like the copy I held thirty years ago.

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