My Encounter with the Late, Great Mr. James Baldwin

Being a Drama Major for only a short time, I tried out for a part in “Jack the Knife”. I was supposed to be one of Jack’s whores. However, I did not get the part. In retrospect, I am glad I did not get that part. Instead, I served as the stage manager. My duties were working with the stage designers, making sure the lighting set the correct mood, giving the characters their cues when needed and gathering the stage props and handing them to the actors as needed. I had just as much fun as the actors and actresses and I didn’t have to learn a part. And just because I didn’t have to learn a part, I learned everybody’s part.
The head of the Drama Department had gone to school in New York. He shared a brown stone in the village with James Baldwin when they were both struggling artist. It was rumored that Baldwin was doing a tour of his works across the south. We were hopeful that Baldwin would stop in The Big Easy. We all got together and asked the Drama Instructor if he would ask Baldwin to make a stop in New Orleans. Mr. Baldwin said yes. In fact his itinerary called for him to make a stop at Tulane University. He could easily also come over to our school and talk with the drama students.
Mr. Baldwin came to our campus and he and our Drama Instructor sat in the back of the theater. When we finished rehearsing, it was too late for the chit chat that had been scheduled so it was put off until the following day. We were not allowed to smoke during class however, at night anything goes. My instructor lit a cigarette and drew a puff then handed the cigarette to me. This is something we did all the time. I took a puff and handed the cigarette back to him. James Baldwin gave me the evil eye. I was young and unafraid of anything at the time, so I gave him an evil eye.
I walked back to the dorm with just me and my thoughts. My dorm mother opened the door and asks me how I liked meeting the great James Baldwin. I told her he was the ugliest man I had ever met inside and out. She laughed and said if he looks anything like his pictures, he is ugly. That night I didn’t sleep well. The next day was a weekend. A party, in Mr. Baldwin’s honor was held in the French Quarters the following day. I dreaded meeting Mr. Baldwin again. His personality was even more disagreeable this time. You could feel the chill illuminating from his body. My instructor appeared to be having fun. He even tried to make me the object of Mr. Baldwin’s discontent again. However, this time I was not going to be played like that. When he offered me his cigarette I said no thank you I’m carrying my own. At that point, I walked away. I could still feel Mr. Baldwin’s daggers in my back as I walked away.
The next year I left school. I completed my education at another institution, got a job, married, and had a baby. One Sunday as I was holding my baby, I saw Margret Mead and James Baldwin On the 20/20 Show. He was in high heaven, in his mind’s eye he was an American Icon in comparison with Steven Foster or Daniel Webster. Margret Mead looked at him with great discontent. He was so full of himself. Continually, he reminded the TV audience they were two great contemporaries with so much to share with the American Public. Margret Mead had written “Coming of age in Samoa”, “Blackberry Winter My Earlier Years”, “Twenty Century Faith, Hope and Survival”, “New Lives for Old cultural Transformation”, “Male and Female: The Classic Study of the Sexes” and a large number of other body of great works attributed to her. Baldwin had written a great body of work about the African American Community. His works included, “Another Country”, “Giovanni Room”, “Go Tell it on the Mountain”, “The Fire Next Time”, “Just Above My head”, “Going to Meet the Man”, “Tell Me how Long the Trains Been Gone”, “One Day When I Was Lost”, Jimmy’s Blues: Selected Poems”, “The Price of the Ticket”, “ The Evidence of things not Seen”, “The Devil Finds Work” and many more. The difference being, Mr. Baldwin stayed in the same genre. This does not take away from the fact Mr. James Baldwin was a genius.
At first I was angry with James Baldwin for the way he had treated me. But as I listened to what they both were saying my heart warmed up more and more for James Baldwin. He was so busy exalting them both he did not notice her reaction to him. The one thing James Baldwin left America was what had trapped him. He believed White America had his back. White or Caucasians as they are called today and Blacks or African Americans want the same thing. Everybody wants the green. During the sixties, the time I was in college, it didn’t matter how much money you had. You were considered a second class citizen. Today anybody who is poor is considered a second class citizen, (both Caucasian and African American & any other disenfranchised group).
My appreciation for Mr. Baldwin has grown with age. In rereading His work, I can see myself as a Black Woman who needs to fully understand who I really am and where I stand on important issues concerning America. America has changed. However, the more we change the more we stay the same. I may sound anti- white. I am not. There are many good White People. There are many bad people of color. Be good to everyone but trust no one. Sometimes I find it difficult to trust myself. Now, people are controlled by their thoughts. The foreign media has taken over many of our large co-operations because Americans who want more money sold us out. America is at the mercy of other countries. Our government wanted to do the right thing by spreading the growth of our economy around the earth. Many of our so called friends in other countries say it’s a little too little a little too late.
Have you read any of Mr. Baldwin’s works? Maybe it is time to do so!

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