In this semi-biographical short story, the relationship between James Baldwin and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and its culmination in their epic confrontation in New York City on 24 May 1963, is portrayed through the lens of an unidentified fictive narrator. In the midst of heightened racial tensions, Baldwin has been tasked with bringing together a delegation of prominent Black US personalities to meet with the Attorney General and share their views on the measures necessary to combat segregation and racism. The meeting has barely begun before the naivety of the administration’s view of the national situation becomes clear, and the atmosphere in the room grows increasingly strained. “The Fire Inside” has never before appeared in print. An earlier version of the story was broadcast by Swedish Radio on 29 November 2019.
Using political and critical theory, this article identifies in James Baldwin a
model for citizenship unique to the Black artist who assumed the dual
responsibilities of art practice and political activism. I engage with
Baldwin’s fiction and his writing about other Black artists working in
theater, film, dance, and music during the period of the civil rights movement.
Across his career, Baldwin’s prevailing view was that, because of their
history, Black artists have the singular, and indeed superlative, capacity to
make art as praxis. Baldwin explains that the craft of the Black artist depends
upon representing truths, rather than fantasies, about their experience, so that
they are at once artists pursuing freedom and citizens pursuing
justice. This article pays particular attention to the tension between living a
public, political life and the need for privacy to create art, and ultimately
the toll this takes on the citizen artist. Baldwin demonstrates how the
community of mutual support he finds among Black artists aids in their survival.
In his writings on Sidney Poitier and Lorraine Hansberry, his friendships with
Beauford Delaney and Josephine Baker, as well as his reviews of music and
literature, Baldwin assembles a collective he refers to as “I and my