by Nancy Kirchmyer
I first heard of James Baldwin and his importance in the Civil Rights movement at a training session in Kingian Nonviolence led by the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence. However, it was through attending a screening the documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro,” followed this summer by “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket,” at the Faith and Justice film series, that I gained a deeper knowledge and appreciation for Baldwin’s importance as a writer and critic on race in America.
SUSO was inspired to show these films because of Michael Eric Dyson’s book, “Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,” which we read and discussed last fall. In his book, Dyson calls on us to learn about Baldwin, “an extraordinary thinker, civil rights activist, and writer on the racism he faced all his life and continues to this day.”
A diverse group of 30 people came together in August to watch “The Price of the Ticket,” the powerful documentary on Baldwin’s life. At the conclusion of the film, some members of the audience expressed their sadness and frustration that progress has been so slow in creating true equality and opportunity for all, and some expressed fear that progress has been reversed. All of us wished to have further discussion on this serious issue.
Baldwin’s non-fiction writing and commentaries on race in America from 1948-1985 have been compiled in a book also titled “The Price of the Ticket.” In his introduction, Baldwin writes that the price of the ticket which a white man pays to become American is very different from the price a black man pays. For example, he wrote, while an Irish immigrant may have started in a “low position” in society similar to a black man, he could, by simply changing his name, easily assimilate and have a future as bright as anyone. The price he paid then, was merely to become white, nothing more. Meanwhile, according to Baldwin, the black man could spend his whole life dreaming of becoming white. That is the price of his ticket, because he can never escape the color of his skin and the racism that hindered his advancement.
If you would like to explore some of Baldwin’s writing and insights on race in America, I recommend reading his autobiography, “No Man is an Island,” or his powerful Civil Rights essay, “The Fire Next Time.”