James Arthur Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York, Aug. 2 1924. Illegitimate
and never knowing his birth father, he grew up in poverty the oldest of nine children. At age 3, his mother married a factory worker who also was a storefront preacher. Feeling trapped by his troubled relationship with his strict religious stepfather; at a young age Baldwin searched for an escape. The inspiration for his passion began in his teens. Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, his French teacher at Frederick Douglass Junior High, influenced Young Baldwin. Cullen, an elegant cultured black teacher and writer with a Master's Degree from Harvard, showed Jimmy a wider range of possibilities. This led to Baldwin spending much of his time in libraries and finding a passion for writing. Oddly enough, at age 12 his first works, as a writer, appeared in a church newspaper. At age 14 he became a preacher at a revival church, Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem. At age 17 he left home. DeWitt Clinton High School provided another outlet for young Baldwin as he served as editor of the school magazine. After gradation, he moved to Greenwich Village where he worked several ill-paid jobs including a stint at the New Jersey Railroad. In 1943 his stepfather died in a mental hospital. Baldwin then immersed himself in self-study and writing. "And it seemed to me, too, that the violence which rose all about us as my father left the world had been devised as a corrective for the pride of his eldest son, I had declined to believe in that apocalypse which had been central to my father's vision; very well, life seemed to be saying, here is something that will certainly pass for an apocalypse until the real thing comes along. I had inclined to be contemptuous of my father for the conditions of life, for the conditions of our lives. When his life had ended I began to wonder about that life and also, in anew way, to be apprehensive about my own" (Notes of a Native Son 55).Í Transferred of Faith
In the 1940s, James Baldwin relocated his faith from religion to literature. His book about storefront churches in Harlem with photographer Theodore Pelatowski gained no success. Although publishers rejected his work, Baldwin's book reviews and essays in The New Leader, The Nation, Commentary, and Partisan Review, together with the help of well-known...