James Baldwin’s Soul is Still on Fire!

by Leslye “Joy” Allen                                                                                                         Historian, Educator, Theatre & Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

On Thursday, May 23, 1963, writer and activist James Baldwin met privately with Robert F. Kennedy at Kennedy’s home in McLean, Virginia. Baldwin was infuriated by the virulence meted out on peaceful civil rights protestors by Birmingham, Alabama police.  Robert Kennedy got an earful.

A second meeting was hastily held the next day, this time at Robert Kennedy’s New York City apartment.  However, on that Friday, May 24, Baldwin brought along a group that can best be described as a “civil rights arsenal”!

Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, Rip Torn, Dr. Kenneth Clark, freedom rider Jerome Smith, attorney Clarence B. Jones, Edwin C. Berry of Chicago’s Urban League, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morganthau arrived at this meeting at Baldwin’s request.

Baldwin’s group came to discuss and complain to Robert Kennedy and Burke Marshall (head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights wing) about President John F. Kennedy’s failure to use the power of the presidency to stem the police violence that continued to plague peaceful civil rights protesters.

The meeting of this group of individuals was not particularly successful. Yet, Baldwin’s outspokenness, audacity, and literary genius was—and remains—a source of both political and artistic inspiration.

My good friend, actor-writer-curator-activist, and now editor, Charles Reese is but one of many keepers of Baldwin’s legacy.

Reese—who stays in Southwest Atlanta whenever he is in town—is pulling double duty in the legacy preservation department.  I learned about his plans when he and I had one of our long breakfast sessions at “The Beautiful Restaurant” on Cascade Road.

Back in the year 2000, Reese, a Morehouse College alumnus, had a daunting task.  He had to figure out a way to preserve, protect, and promote the work of his good friend, fellow Morehouse alumnus and playwright Howard B. Simon who died that year of complications brought on by streptococcus meningitis—He was only 37 years old.  Even more tragic, Simon never got a chance to read the great reviews theatre critics wrote about his seminal play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire.

A Soul on Fire is not an account of what happened in Bobby Kennedy’s apartment that Friday in 1963.  It is, rather, Simon’s vision of what Baldwin did, said, and imagined the day before.

Via the dramatic genius of Simon and the bravura performance of Reese in the title role, the play captured the essence of Baldwin and the spirit of the 1960s.  With both Simon and Baldwin gone, Reese has not waivered in his determination to preserve the legacies of both men.

With a lot of tenacity (and a little help from his friends), Charles Reese has edited and published the play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire by Howard B. Simon.*

Reese kicked off a book/play-signing tour on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles with plans to go from city to city hosting book signings and reading salons, inviting the public to take part in the drama and the discussion.

I urge you to join the celebration of James Baldwin and Morehouse alums Howard B. Simon and Charles Reese.  The play James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire is available at: Amazon.com.

For more information about hosting a book-signing and play-reading event; and to keep up with Charles Reese’s many multimedia projects (The James Baldwin Project, the Howard B. Simon Literary Canon and The Charles Reese Experience), go to: The Charles Reese Experience.

For additional historical information about James Baldwin and Howard B. Simon; and to keep up with the plans to develop a film version of the play, visit: James Baldwin: A Soul on Fire.

*Finishing the last edits and details in late December 2011, Charles Reese chose 2012 as the target year to promote the publication of Simon’s play because this year marks the 25th anniversary of Baldwin’s death.  Baldwin’s body departed us on December 1, 1987 in Saint-Paul-De-Vence, France.  His Soul, however, is Still On Fire!  Peace.

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author..


1 thought on “James Baldwin’s Soul is Still on Fire!

  1. Pingback: Charles Reese in DC Sept 19-23! | Leslye Joy Allen

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