In case you missed it: the PBS tribute to James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket. (Length: 1:25:12)

What is it you wanted me to reconcile myself to? I was born here, almost 60 years ago. I’m not going to live another 60 years. You always told me ‘It takes time.’ It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time. How much time do you want for your progress? —James Baldwin

I grew up in a home with at least two of Baldwin’s books, each thin republications. On one I remember a line drawing of his face in peach and purple pencil; on the other, a black-and-white photo.

Time Magazine cover -- a life-like painting of James Baldwin looking directly at the reader

James Baldwin | TIME magazine, 1963

I saw them on the shelves, picked them off and looked at them, but never read them. I had no context for him. No one told me stories about him. Oh, they told me that he wrote; they told me what he did. But they never told me about who he was. They didn’t tell me about his life, about his consciousness, about his wholeness, about his many faces, about those faces that looked like mine.

Twenty years pass. I discover the internet and YouTube. The internet includes his articles, and YouTube hosts his interviews. I read and hear and see this young black man with fire in his eyes and piercing clarity in his mind. I see this wrinkled graying sage who never fathered children but fathered many of us nevertheless. I watch him projected from the memories of his friends… Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed.

He debates with the United States establishment and presents his thoughts to my parents’ generation of West Indian immigrants to the UK. I eavesdrop on my ancestor, grateful, reverent, wondering what he’d have seen in me, my millennium, this America.

From the Fire Next Time era:

It comes as a great shock around the age of 5 or 6 or 7, to realize that the flag to which you have pledged along with everybody else has not pledged allegiance to you. —James Baldwin

and

I’ve loved a few men, I’ve loved a few women. And a few people have loved me, and that’s, I suppose, all that’s saved my life. —James Baldwin

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