My real name is not James Bell, but James Baldwin. Not a lot of people know that.
And I changed it for a number of reasons, but one reason was that there was someone who had already made that name famous, and I had no desire to try to compete for it. The other one, James Arthur Baldwin, was like my relatives Stanley Baldwin and Rudyard Kipling in the fact (and perhaps only alike in this fact) that when I was young I got the sense that grown-ups generally didn’t really approve of him, but I was never quite sure why. I feel I have a clearer picture on all of them now: Stanley Baldwin is still seen by many as being an appeaser to Hitler (don’t get my father started on this!), and Rudyard Kipling… well, read the poem White Man’s Burden if you want a jumping-off point for that debate. And my namesake? He just didn’t believe. He didn’t believe in the dream, that soon black children and white children would be joining hands together and singing in the spirituals of old: free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, we are free at last. Continue reading