Wednesday, December 9, 2020

What the Church Meant for James Baldwin

By Ayana Mathis
James Baldwin addresses a congregation in a New Orleans church, circa 1963. Steve Schapiro/Corbis, via Getty Images
Perhaps Baldwin left the church because he knew he would not have survived its stifling rigors, and had little desire to try. Certainly the exacting and capricious God of his upbringing. And yet in his 1962 essay “Down at the Cross: Letter From a Region in My Mind,” Baldwin wrote of his vexing childhood religion: “In spite of everything, there was in the life I fled a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster that are very moving and very rare.” The church imprinted him with its music, its pathos, its soaring rhetoric, the stalwart and fragile souls of the faithful — these were dear to him and find full expression in “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” [More]