Writer and playwright James Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York. One of the 20th century’s greatest writers, 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 was born to a young single mother, Emma Jones, at Harlem Hospital. She reportedly never told him the name of his biological father. Jones married a Baptist minister named David Baldwin when James was about three years old.
Despite their strained relationship, Baldwin followed in his stepfather’s footsteps — who he always referred to as his father — during his early teen years. He served as a youth minister in a Harlem Pentecostal church from the ages of 14 to 16.
Baldwin developed a passion for reading at an early age and demonstrated a gift for writing during his school years. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the school’s magazine with future famous photographer Richard Avedon.
Baldwin published numerous poems, short stories and plays in the magazine, and his early work showed an understanding for sophisticated literary devices in a writer of such a young age.
After graduating from high school in 1942, he had to put his plans for college on hold to help support his family, which included seven younger children. He took whatever work he could find, including laying railroad tracks for the U.S. Army in New Jersey.
During this time, Baldwin frequently encountered discrimination, being turned away from restaurants, bars and other establishments because he was African American. After being fired from the New Jersey job, Baldwin sought other work and struggled to make ends meet…
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