Centennial Of A Prophet: James Baldwin's 100th Anniversary

Centennial Of A Prophet: James Baldwin's 100th Anniversary

You're born poor in Harlem, the oldest son, and hit the streets in the Depression doing errands and odd jobs. Your father gives you a dime to get kerosene. You fall on the ice, losing the dime. Your father beats you. He says you're ugly.

Your mother is your salvation. You help her with baby after baby. Your father works in a factory and as a church minister on Sunday. You're a preacher's son and preach to young people.

You love when the church rocks and sings the power and glory. You're not religious, but knowing the Bible shapes your sonorous voice for the ages.

A school principal sends you to the public library. A cop says, "Why don't you stay uptown where you belong?"

You grow up fast, a complex soul, and move to Greenwich Village. You work as a waiter and at an army depot.

You're an outsider on two counts: Black and gay. The 1950s were so rigid, you need to breathe freer air.

So you sail to Paris, once your first novel is out: the autobiographical Go Tell It On the Mountain. At 29, your life becomes a tale of two cities, New York and Paris, with friends on both shores.

But you are always American. Maybe you see your country more clearly from over the ocean. We see it more clearly thanks to you.

Your name is James Baldwin, the major 20th-century author. You were born in 1924. This is your centennial year.

Gone for years, Baldwin stays ahead of our time as a literary prophet.

A Northerner who felt the Southern sting of Jim Crow law, Baldwin foretold the racial fury and protests that spilled onto streets when George Floyd was choked by police in 2020.

Baldwin's powerful essays and novels are his main legacy.

For the novels alone, he belongs in the pantheon. "Giovanni's Room" is a self-portrait in Paris and tells of a tragic gay love. His publisher turned it down.

Baldwin's wrenching fiction paints a lynching at a village picnic; police brutality ending in suicide; a white farm boy getting his neck broken.

In the lynching story, Baldwin forces us to face the fate of thousands of African American men.

A blunt declaration underlies Baldwin's work: "The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling."

Baldwin's characters are Black and white. Race lies at the heart of his work. Following footsteps of the Harlem Renaissance writers, he surpassed almost all.

Baldwin's social criticism cuts to the bone. His rise as a writer accompanied the Civil Rights Movement.

The movement became the music to his words. Baldwin knew Martin Luther King Jr. and attended the 1963 March on Washington. He visited Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta, the places that made bloody history. Baldwin lived civil rights on the front lines.

Once Baldwin brought freedom riders to confront Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. Harry Belafonte and others demanded the Justice Department protect peaceful marchers. Kennedy was shocked at the barrage.

1963 was an inflection point, sun shadowed by a Klan church bombing that killed four girls in Alabama. Then came the November knell: President John F. Kennedy's death drove the nation into despair.

The year before, a sweeter note with the Kennedys had sounded. Baldwin was a guest at the famous White House dinner for Nobel laureates. That year he turned 38 and published Another Country.

Authors William Styron and Norman Mailer and actor Marlon Brando were among his friends.

For all Baldwin's slings and arrows, he lived in the light of genius. No starving writer, he became a posh citizen of the world seen in Istanbul and Paris cafes. He called others "baby.'

Baldwin had a home in France. Yet he was never at rest.

The classic novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, arose from Baldwin's bleak vision at 50.

His great love was a Swiss man, Lucien Happersberger, who had a cottage in the Alps. They spent a winter there when they were young — a long way from Harlem.

Baldwin became Lucien's son's godfather.

As Baldwin lay dying in France, Lucien and his brother David stayed by the writer's side. James Baldwin was 63.

The author may be reached at JamieStiehm.com To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit Creators.com.

Rose Garden, The White House

Murder In The Rose Garden (Melania Did It)

The laziest first lady in American history paved over parts of the White House Rose Garden for her husband's four addresses to the Republican National Convention.

So, why should we care in a summer of sorrow and woe, wildfires and hurricanes, a reckoning on race and the pandemic? What are crab apple trees to thee and me?

Ruining the Rose Garden design brought destruction of the tulip bulbs that dance in bloom, leading a lively parade of other flowers and shrubs. Gone, just like that. News of the "renovation" landed like a cross to my spirits, a bell of warning that there's more to come from President Donald Trump and Melania Trump. Nothing's sacred to these people.

Gardeners do not renovate, by the way. That's for houses, buildings, man-made places. I have it from the best of historians that Melania Trump is the laziest first lady ever, so perhaps the president plotted the murder and used her as a shield from critics.

Still, the bloody deed is done. Melania Trump is now implicated in her husband's radical disrespect for the dialogue between ages and presidents that goes on in the White House. There's only one president he shows any feeling for: fierce Southern slaveholder, lawyer and warrior general Andrew Jackson, who marched Native American tribes away from their land.

President John F. Kennedy envisioned the Rose Garden as a sublime gathering place and asked a family friend to design the colonnade space and bright colors for each season. He loved the seamless connection to the Oval Office, walking outside to beauty back in 1962. Every time he saw Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon, he asked her how plans for the garden were coming along. He read Thomas Jefferson's garden writings and wished to plant Virginia magnolia trees in an unbroken pattern of history.

It's often thought Jacqueline Kennedy designed the Rose Garden, but it was President Kennedy's signature gift to the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy concentrated on art, furnishings and historic preservation. She once gave a dinner to celebrate Renaissance music and poetry.

Those days are over. The garden, until five minutes ago, exuded a cheery, unfussy elegance that sang of American optimism and belief in the future. Every garden is a world and a vote for the future.

This captures the heart of the loss: a shared concern about the 2020 election and what the future holds.

I was too young to remember the enchanting Kennedy era, of which the garden was a living remnant. The bloom was never off Camelot's rose. Jack Kennedy's sojourn on earth was short. He broke our hearts in a swift snap when he died by murder in Dallas.

Trump has broken our hearts in a different way — slowly, one day at a time, sowing seeds of discord and fury for his summer garden of thorns. And perhaps he has us where he wants us — demoralized, fragile, indoors, boarded up.

We're all missing people or things we love, little and large, under stress and siege since March. Like the post office, reader, our democratic service for all spelled out in the Constitution. The rage Trump rains and sleets on this precious institution is unheralded, trying to shake American faith in voting by mail before the election.

There are two 2020 anniversaries that we marked: Ludwig von Beethoven's 250th birthday, to be celebrated by orchestras worldwide, from Berlin to Washington. I had my tickets ready, choosing among my favorite symphonies. Don't tell me virtual playing is just as good. There's nothing like a full concert hall.

Then there's women's suffrage, winning the vote in August 1920. The centennial got lost in the crush, lucky for Trump. He wouldn't like knowing a young leader, Alice Paul, prevailed over President Woodrow Wilson.

My home state of California, once a promised land, is burning. New Orleans, which holds sweet memories, may be lashed by hurricanes. Somehow, it's all of a piece.

Time hangs heavy on our hands. Biking around town frees my soul, but I miss swimming's summer kiss on my skin. Crickets and cicadas sing me to sleep, a sound that gets back to the gardens we've lost.

Jamie Stiehm can be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.

Arlington National Cemetery, confederate monument

The Capitol’s Confederate Past Is Still Present

WASHINGTON — Eleven Confederate statues still stand tall in the Capitol. Let the ghost of the "Lost Cause" be gone for good as the nation undergoes a wrenching racial awakening.

Oh, no, says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He refuses to "airbrush the Capitol."

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How Social Change Comes In Twos, And History Rhymes

How Social Change Comes In Twos, And History Rhymes

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Go down, Harvey Weinstein, down to Alabama and campaign for cowboy Roy Moore, the Republican rocking Washington the way you roiled Hollywood. The dirty river of sexual harassment finally rose to claim and name each of you — and more. Comedian Louis C.K., you can go, too.

Masters of the universe are shattered at how swiftly the rules of the game changed. How unfair; how unfortunate. They’re gobsmacked that the world takes women seriously now. They’re just women, after all. Or girls, as the case may be.

You wonder why the change came in a twinkling, with sexual harassment victims speaking out, tales tumbling like dice. Weinstein may be charged with rape by the New York police department. The sheer numbers of powerful men brought down became a breaking point in a short time. From Bill O’Reilly of Fox News to Washington literary lion Leon Wieseltier, the list is long.

The answer is clear. The Black Lives Matter protest movement was strengthened in Baltimore on an April Sunday in 2015, when several police officers chased after a young man, Freddie Gray, and broke his spine while taking him into custody. Revolutions often come in twos to the ark of moral justice.

Gray died of trauma injuries, setting off riots in Baltimore and sympathetic stirrings around the nation. City after city — including Ferguson, Missouri. and Cleveland, Ohio — had witnessed police brutality against black men — and boys.

Outrage grew when the dots connected, when white people finally saw the ugly pattern of police abuse of power. Black men and youths do get harmed for doing nothing. Gray was doing nothing that Sunday morning in his neighborhood. He was no violent criminal.

The militarization of city police forces since the Sept.11 terrorist attacks — along with Pentagon tanks and weapons — has made policing even more hostile. The ACLU found that Baltimore police made hundreds of thousands of arrests in a city of 640,000 in one year. Across the nation, even with a black president, black men bore the brunt of police violence. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, a Baltimore native, hit nerves in the reading public’s consciousness of the state of race.

Progress happens in fits and starts, not a straight line. But one can observe the influence of one movement on another. The sexual harassment wave is kin to Black Lives Matter, like a sister/brother tie. In both gathering storms, violence and abuse unseen by the public eye finally surfaced and came to light. Exposing the abuse and anguish inflicted by alpha men (armed with guns or power) on blacks and women was nothing short of shocking.

The Freedom Riders and civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, similarly, was the forerunner of the women’s movement of the early 1970s. For participants, one social movement led naturally to the other. “Women’s lib” emerged to take stands on Ms., Title IX and sex discrimination. Gloria Steinem and Billie Jean King were standard-bearers. Ivy League doors opened to women.

The original brother/sister human rights model is the American anti-slavery society, started in Philadelphia in 1833. Many abolitionist women decided to work for their own emancipation as citizens, too. The women’s rights movement was launched in 1848 by leading Quaker abolitionist Lucretia Mott, present at the creation of the anti-slavery society. It doesn’t take that many brave people to crack the world.

Cracked, but we’re not going back. I must say, now that misogyny is a household word, a few glib men are now experts. Women will speak for themselves in this national conversation.

But hey now. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has undergone a reformation. “I believe the women,” he said of Moore’s accusers. That wasn’t his stance on Anita Hill’s testimony, on how Clarence Thomas viciously harassed her, at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Fruits of privilege are never surrendered without a fight or a scene. But the fact such confrontations and scenes are happening is a good thing. And then we move on from victimhood.

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote, “hope and history rhyme.” That’s absolutely true when it comes to African-American and women’s rights.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com


Virginia, A Ray Of Light On A Rainy Day

Virginia, A Ray Of Light On A Rainy Day

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Washington — Cold, dark and autumnal at five o’clock — and that’s not just the weather. It was a year ago to the day that Hillary Clinton lost her historic bid to become president, though she won the people’s vote decisively.

Forgive my blue gloom. Clinton was for all seasons — first lady, senator, secretary of state. She deserved better: a fair chance, not to be run down in the mud of her opponent’s misogyny.

Her defeat was a defeat for every woman and girl who avidly supported her. My sister and her girl campaigned door to door in Las Vegas. This is what the election told us: Put your dreams on hold. History’s going backward.

The man who won the Electoral College, President Donald Trump, now has record low approval ratings. His associates are under investigation for campaign contacts with the Russians to sway a close race. It still seems surreal, that Facebook let itself be played in a massive Russian meddling conspiracy, even getting paid in rubles. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president and a former KGB spymaster, harbored a vendetta against Clinton since her diplomatic days. In a way, he won the election.

Trump has governed against the great American middle, from the hard right. Politics was the art of compromise, once upon a time. It’s sad to see the White House press corps scrambling after his Archie Bunkeresque tweets. The snide White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dredges up President Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler. It’s that bad.

But wait, there’s a ray of light inside the Capitol Dome. The two Virginia senators walked in the press gallery for a “pen and pad” session. The election of a folksy Army doctor as the new Democratic governor was a real rebuke to Trump in a battleground state.

Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner looked giddy with relief. Their man, Dr. Ralph Northam, was a low-key candidate running against a Republican lobbyist, Ed Gillepsie, who employed Trump tactics, such as defending Confederate statues after the deadly race riot in Charlottesville.

“I was worried about the rain,” Warner cheerfully admitted, “and the traffic.”

The rural vs. urban divide is cleft in “Old Virginny” vs. new Northern Virginia, a thriving urbane mosaic of well-educated white-collar workers.

“When a Democrat wins by 9 points in Virginia,” Kaine enthused, “that’s a landslide.” He was on the ticket “with Hillary” Clinton. They carried Virginia — but not by much.

But the doctor said it best in his Eastern Shore drawl.

“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry,” Northam said. “It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences. And I’m here to tell you, the doctor is in!”

In a strong signal to other Democrats, Northam’s liberal primary opponent, Tom Perriello, campaigned with vigor for the man who defeated him.

Virginia led the nation in a victorious night for Democrats, including first-time city and state officeholders. Abrasive Chris Christie, Republican governor of New Jersey, will be succeeded by a Democrat. With a 14 percent approval rating, he won’t be missed.

The 2016 election also tested outgoing President Barack Obama’s chops as his party leader. Trump began his outsider’s crusade for office by challenging Obama’s legitimacy as a citizen. Obama never confronted him.

Strangely, Obama also failed to tell the American people about ongoing Russian interference till late in the game — for he thought Clinton was going to win the election and didn’t want to rock the boat, so he said. We the people should have been told, regardless of his political read.

Obama’s a solo artist, but not a team player for the party. He did not even energize his base to come out for Clinton. Of course, she chased the little red-haired girl for Democrats, the unattainable red state of Ohio, instead of spending time in places like Green Bay, Wisconsin. Trump said one true thing about the election: Democrats should have won it.

Rubbing it in, this week was the 25th anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s win in 1992. Better days beckoned.

The cold, dark autumn night fell fast.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage atwww.creators.com.

Kelly’s White House Tirade Snuffed A Candle Of Hope

Kelly’s White House Tirade Snuffed A Candle Of Hope

Reprinted with permission from Creators.


WASHINGTON — White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was an officer, but he’s not a gentleman.

So much for the deft touch his job demands and the high hope we held he’d be a voice of reason, the innkeeper for the inmates of the Trump presidency.

As the days passed this bleak week, Kelly kept a silence, hardened into ice. He failed to apologize to a Democratic congresswoman of color for speaking poorly and falsely of her in a national media moment. Nor did he have a kind word for a pregnant Gold Star widow whose husband died in Niger. Even while saying women were “sacred.”

Mind you, Kelly was a four-star Marine Corps general, so he was slumming by speaking to civilian dweebs in the White House press corps. In the world we live in now, his stars give him a pass to speak strange untruths with no consequences.

Take it from Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s highly inappropriate.” The White House spokeswoman delivered her chilling line straight, snide, with a scowl.

Praising the warrior class, Kelly made clear “the best 1 percent this country produces” are superior to the rest of us in a band of brothers, we happy few, Shakespearean way. That’s bad news in democracy, which depends upon civilian control of the military.

It’s un-American to exalt the military, sir. But Marines are a breed apart, even in the military. Their fierce intensity inculcates a faith they are tougher than the rest: Army, Navy, Air Force. Huzzah.

Kelly was called out by a few pundits after a morbid solo in the pressroom, where he described how casualties are wrapped in shrouds and packed in ice. His son Robert was a Marine Corps casualty seven years ago in Afghanistan. It felt like yesterday as he recounted hearing the news from fellow Marine Corps commander, Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Clearly, the chief’s raw grief and anger on display created a potent political brew. His smear of Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., however, salted a grieving family’s wound and exposed a grim thinker with no sympathy for 99 percent of the populace.

Here’s Thomas Friedman of The New York Times: “Kelly squandered his moral authority.” Richard Cohen in The Washington Post: “Did Kelly lie or did he misremember? I prefer the second choice, but either way, the stars he once wore on his shoulder do not immunize him.”

Back in the briefing room, Kelly accused Wilson of grandstanding at the 2015 dedication of an FBI building, which was proved wrong. In Boston slang, he spoke harshly of her as an “empty barrel.”

Too bad he wildly missed the reason Wilson was with the widow when the president called her to say, “(Y)our guy … knew what he signed up for,” in his inimitable way.

Trump’s call came in on speakerphone in a parked vehicle.

At that moment, Wilson kept a vigil with the family of the slain soldier, La David Johnson, while waiting for his remains with an Army team. The congresswoman saw the sergeant grow up and mentored him as a youth. She was a family friend.

“When (Kelly) lied on me, he lied to them,” Wilson said, meaning the American people. She’s a spirited 74.

“The only thing I could do to collect my thoughts,” Kelly concluded, was to go to Arlington National Cemetery across the river that day.

Perhaps the battle-hardened Marine, 67, knows Montgomery Meigs, the Civil War quartermaster general, was the genius who suggested to President Lincoln: Let’s turn Robert E. Lee’s rolling plantation acres, Arlington, into a “field of honor” for Union soldiers.

The symbol was not so subtle: Their blood was on Lee’s hands. Meigs hated Lee, whom he knew, as a traitor. Like Kelly, he buried there his own son John, a West Point-educated soldier who died young in Virginia in 1864.

Kelly sure knows this: We have an all-volunteer military because the Pentagon and presidents like it that way. They can go to war easier. A draft requires a social consensus.

As for civilians, the last candle of hope at the court was extinguished with Kelly’s tirade.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.



It Happens All The Time: Hollywood, Washington, The Old South

It Happens All The Time: Hollywood, Washington, The Old South

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Hollywood was shocked (shocked!) at the story pyramid revealing Harvey Weinstein’s violent passes at younger women.

(Why wait 20 years, superstars Angelina, Gwyneth and boyfriend Brad?)

Hear the echoes of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas and, telescoping time, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Did the champion of liberty coerce his subjugated slave mistress? You tell me. But there’s a twist to that tale.

The free-fall from movie pharaoh to industry pariah brought a breeze of vindication. Weinstein’s life crumbled in such cinematic style that a plot point was born: a flood named #MeToo. The hashtag sprang up for legions of women who vividly reported sexual assault and harassment. They voiced their experiences online, breaking silences on social media.

This is not new, and white Hollywood stars are far from the only victims.

Speaking out is freeing. The volume from Everywoman showed sexual harassment happens all the time. Hollywood came clean on its dirty open secret, just how sordid Weinstein was with women.

Social movements cannot live on ether alone. Gathering force, women can hew new lines for their safety. Since the president has bragged about sexual assault, women should plan to protect each other in the workplace — and that includes the White House. The energy need not stop there; it can seize on other outrages in the age of Trump.

Back in 1991, Anita Hill’s sworn testimony was not believed by 52 senators, 26 Octobers ago. The Senate hearings riveted the nation. Hill’s specific allegations of Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment when he was her boss were so graphic and embarrassing that Thomas fled the room — he couldn’t take the heat. Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., acted like witches. Thunder, lightning and rain, I called them from my San Francisco fog.

A Supreme Court seat was at stake. There were two women senators. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W. Va., stood and declared Hill told the truth. The vote was a sea of ties: 52 to 48 to confirm arch-conservative Thomas. Had the drama gone the other way, I’m sure society would be in a different place. The vote sent a chilling message to a woman’s word against a powerful man.

In Jefferson’s Virginia, enslaved women were at the mercy of their master. Their bodies were legally his property. That was the way of the plantation world. “Planters” had slave mistresses all the time. Everybody knew, few talked. That’s how slavery grew so fast, by natural increase.

Women and girl slaves were always in the workplace — morning, noon and night. A master’s move to claim them was inescapable. And they had no way to voice their victimization. They couldn’t read, write or tweet. They are lost to history, mostly, save one.

Sally Hemings’ life has come to light since 1999. There are shades of gray in the Hemings-Jefferson bond of 38 years. Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died young, leaving him devastated with two daughters. He took Sally to France, where he was the American ambassador, to take care of the girls.

And there the thing began. Sally was in her teens, Jefferson in his 40s. As the French say, droit de seigneur. The master’s right. Jefferson historians took forever and a day to handle the bombshell truth.

Here goes: Sally and Martha were half-sisters. They had the same white father, whose slave concubine was Sally’s mother. You see, Sally was Martha’s slave, her own flesh and blood.

Hemings had a rare choice: Stay a free woman in Paris or return to Virginia a slave. Jefferson pleaded that she’d have a good life in the great house, Monticello. He promised to free their children at 21. (He did.)

Sally Hemings had four children by Jefferson. DNA results told us so. One strikingly resembled his father, visitors noted. Madison Hemings was so named because Dolley Madison pressed a pregnant Sally to name a son after her husband, James.

Madison, a carpenter, wrote a memoir of Monticello and his “stately” father in an Ohio newspaper. His brother Eston played the violin, like his father, and went west to Wisconsin. Some light-skinned Hemings-Jefferson descendants crossed the color line.

Let’s keep working to change the tragic chorus: It happens all the time.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.