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125 MIN READ TIME

Baldwin’s Lonely Country

ON THE AFTERNOON of April 4, 1968, James Baldwin was relaxing by the pool with actor Billy Dee Williams in a rented house in Palm Springs. Columbia Pictures had put Baldwin up there after commissioning him to write a film adaptation of Alex Haley’s 7he Autobiography of Malcolm X(1965); Williams was Baldwin’s pick to play Malcolm. The men were listening to Aretha Franklin when the phone rang. Upon hearing the news that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated, Baldwin collapsed in Williams’s arms.

Baldwin had known King since 1957, when the two had met in Atlanta. They had seen each other twice in the previous weeks. Both spoke at Carnegie Hall on February 23 in honor of W. E. B. Du Bois. For the event, Baldwin read aloud from his defense of the Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, an essay that had recently also been published in the Manchester Guardian. And on March 16, along with Marlon Brando, Baldwin introduced King at a fundraiser at Anaheim’s Disneyland Hotel.

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