The Digital Journalist

James Baldwin

Some people are in a state of perpetual crisis. James Baldwin was one of those. He moved with erratic but brilliant energy. His attachment to family was strong and he was intense in all the things he did. He was passionately connected to art, theatre and politics and was a force to be reckoned with in the civil rights movement.

I had been aware of his novels, but when The New Yorker published "The Fire Next Time," an essay on the state of black people in America, I asked Life if I could do a long photo essay with Baldwin. He and they agreed and I started traveling with Jimmy wherever he would go. In the course of the next few months, we traveled to Mississippi, New Orleans, North Carolina and New York. We rarely made our flights by more than a minute or two. In the South we visited with James Meredith, Medgar Evers, and poor children in Durham. We saw kids who were not being properly educated and people who were being intimidated against voting.

We stood at the pulpit inside churches. We hung out in front of a store with signs that read "Colored Only," with the storekeeper peering at us as I took pictures. We visited storefront mosques, ate fried chicken and laughed a lot. In New York we met up with Lena Horne, activists and students.

Life laid out the Baldwin story for 12 pages, which was totally unrealistic. When it came time to put the mock-up for this story into the actual magazine, there were not 12 pages available. Finally, the story was consolidated down to six pages.

The Baldwin story was to open on a single right-hand page with a strong, dramatic close-up shot of Jimmy at a church pulpit. However, when the magazine was about to go to press, it was discovered that the left-hand page facing Baldwin carried an advertisement for chocolate pudding. The editors immediately pulled the Baldwin story from the issue. However, it did run a few weeks later.