Black History Month Spotlight: James Baldwin and Dignity

Throughout Black History Month, we are recognizing the significant contributions African Americans have made—and continue to make—for the betterment of our city, country, and world.

We want to have a conversation with you, too. Throughout February, we will spotlight on our blog and Facebook page an African American who embodied one of our four core values—one value each week and somebody who lived out the value of dignity, justice, community, or impact. We hope you follow along and join us in honoring their contributions.

Dignity: We honor the inherent worth of every human being.

“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.”

Through his works, and oftentimes his own experiences, essayist, playwright, and novelist James Baldwin exposed racial and social injustices in the U.S. during the 1950s-80s.

Born in 1924 in New York City, James Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works. He was especially known for his essays on the black experience in America.

Baldwin had his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953. The loosely autobiographical tale focused on the life of a young man growing up in Harlem grappling with father issues and his religion.

Read his full biography here.

Baldwin explored writing for the stage as well. He wrote The Amen Corner, which looked at the phenomenon of storefront Pentecostal religion. The play was produced at Howard University in 1955, and later on Broadway in the mid-1960s.

It was his essays, however, that helped establish Baldwin as one of the top writers of the times. Delving into his own life, he provided an unflinching look at the black experience in America through such works as Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961).

Nobody Knows My Name hit the bestsellers list, selling more than a million copies. While not a marching or sit-in style activist, Baldwin emerged as one of the leading voices in the Civil Rights Movement for his compelling work on race.

Never wanting to be a spokesperson or a leader, Baldwin saw his personal mission as bearing “witness to the truth.” He accomplished this mission through his extensive, rapturous literary legacy.

Read his full biography here.