Prophetic Urgency: The 1963 James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. Warnings to America

Carly Renee Lucas


In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin prophetically warned America to head King’s nonviolent calls for equality and racial progress. Through a comparison of The Fire Next Time and “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” we see how Baldwin and King respectively describe American racism, and the militancy, which they warned would not be as palatable as King’s approach. King’s piece was famously syncretic, fusing disparate sources (Socrates, Gandhi, Thoreau, Niebuhr) with the biblical cadences of the social gospel tradition of his beloved father. Baldwin's imagination, shaped by his experience of Harlem rather than Atlanta, and by a more fraught conflict with his tormented father, was apocalyptic. Nevertheless, they admired and respected each other, played complementary roles in the history of their time, and produced works of such eloquence and power that they have transcended the particular circumstances of 1963 and become permanent contributions to American literature.


Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, American literature, the Church, Black Nationalism, militancy, nonviolence

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Copyright (c) 2017 Carly Renee Lucas

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