This is a message of far greater relevance today, when so many legal rights have been won, but hatred now threatens to tear America apart. James Baldwin foresaw all this. In “I Am Not Your Negro,” he speaks to us, like a somberly eloquent ghost from the past, and what he says is: The thing we think of as the “American racial problem” is not the American racial problem. It’s a crisis of the American spirit, with race as the excuse. It’s the disease that we must heal, or it will destroy us. To hear that message echo through “I Am Not Your Negro” is to feel uplifted in the special way that only James Baldwin could uplift you. It’s to feel cleansed, but warned. It’s to feel that the fire is here.
After the assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, Baldwin returned to St. Paul de Vence, France, where he worked on a book about the disillusionment of the times, If Beale Street Could Talk (1974). Many responded to the harsh tone of If Beale Street Could Talk with accusations of bitterness – but even though Baldwin had encapsulated much of the anger of the times in his book, he always remained a constant advocate for universal love and brotherhood. During the last ten years of his life, he produced a number of important works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. He also turned to teaching as a new way of connecting with the young.