Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

James Baldwin

One of the great American writers of the 20th century, James Baldwin was a novelist, playwright, essayist, and civil rights activist. His work addressed issues of race, religion, and sexuality. Born in Harlem in the midst of the Great Migration of southern blacks to northern cities and the cultural flowering of the Harlem Renaissance, he experienced the poverty and hardship of the Great Depression. A teenage preacher at a Pentecostal congregation in Harlem, he soon left the church and devoted himself to writing. Living in Greenwich Village and mentored by artist Beauford Delaney, he came to terms with his sexuality. In 1948, he moved to France for the greater freedom it offered someone who was both black and gay. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) was commercially successful. It was followed by Giovanni's Room (1956) and Another Country (1962), which pushed boundaries around race and sexuality. In 1963 Baldwin published The Fire Next Time, two searingly direct essays on the harsh reality of racism. Returning to the US at the height of the civil rights movement, he participated in demonstrations, and in a highly publicized meeting directly confronted Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy on the federal government's inadequate support of the civil rights movement. Later returning to France, Baldwin continued to write novels, plays, and essays until his death in 1987.