James Baldwin – Lecture at Castlemont High School – Oakland, California – Broadcast June 23, 1963 – KPFA – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
This was not the first lecture James Baldwin gave to a group of high school students, nor was it the last. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, James Baldwin delivered similar lectures at high schools all over the country, and many in California. And I say that with a good degree of authority because he lectured my high school, Alexander Hamilton high in Los Angeles in 1968. It was unforgettable and made an impression on, not only this seventeen-year old mind, but on the minds of the packed auditorium who filed in for the special assembly.
In 1968, as it is now, the air was charged with protest and upheaval. It was right after Martin Luther King was assassinated and it would be weeks before Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. There was anger and a sense of commitment to bring about change, even if it was falling on the ears and shoulders of kids who couldn’t even vote yet.
As it was indicated in the KPFA folio (the monthly program guide issued by KPFA in Berkeley), Castlemont High in Oakland was described as a predominately Black high school. Double-checking the Castlemont yearbooks from 1963 and 1964, it was more racially mixed than predominant, with equal numbers of Black, Latino, White and Asians in the student makeup – much what urban California Schools were like during that time. But the message James Baldwin delivered was the same, listening to this lecture from 1963 and remembering the one I heard in 1968.
Above and beyond his unmistakeable power as an author, his gift at laying out issues, imparting knowledge and conveying experience made an enormous difference and created an indelible imprint, especially on those who were just in their formative years where having an open mind was an essential tool for growing up during those years and understanding an increasingly complex world we were living in.
James Baldwin had a strong and powerful message – this lecture given in 1963 is just as essential listening now as it was then.
Have a listen – and repeat – and play it for friends. The message is timeless.