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No Name in the Street (Vintage International) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 211 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Baldwin's recollections of the 1950s and 60s are not presented as linear narrative. Instead, he intertwines, among other topics: the cowardice of liberals during the McCarthy era; the French-Algerian conflict; his investigations and travels in the South; the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (and his own reminiscences of them); his experiences in Hollywood with commercial filmmakers; his encounters with Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers; his bemused reaction to the flower children in San Francisco; and his four-year battle to rescue his former assistant, Tony Maynard, from an arrest and conviction for a murder he didn't commit. (Maynard's conviction was overturned after this book was published.) The supporting cast of his friends and adversaries in these personal and societal struggles is a veritable who's who: Elia Kazan, William Styron, Fred Shuttlewsorth, Andrew Young, Harry Belafonte, Billy Dee Williams, Marlon Brando, Robert Kennedy.
Baldwin's self-effacing willingness to reopen old wounds and expose the evidence of his own folly is still on hand here. He opens with an anecdote about a visit with a childhood friend in the south Bronx: his humorous and humiliating arrival in a limousine, the all-too-apparent difference between his own prosperity and his friend's meager (but contented) subsistence and his shameful condescension toward his friend's "job at the post office," and their explosive argument over the war in Vietnam. He also recounts his own naivety in a chronicle of his first traumatic exposure to Jim Crow laws in Montgomery: "It is not difficult to be a marked man in the South--all you have to do, in fact, is to go there."
Baldwin admits to the impossibility of objectivity in his writing, comparing his task to Shaw's writing "Saint Joan": "he had the immense advantage of having never known her." And his account of two decades of struggle is by no means impartial. But I prefer this version of Baldwin, who no longer seems to care about kowtowing to the mostly white New Yorker readers who made up his audience for his earlier work. "No Name in the Street" is uncomfortably honest--and that bluntness lends the work a faithfulness to the spirit of the times.
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