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In many of his essays, Baldwin refers to his father, but the man he speaks of as his father is really his step-father, David Baldwin, who was born in Louisiana and came to New York City in 1919 in the large-scale emigration of Southern blacks northward in the years following World War I. David Baldwin’s mother, Barbara, had been born in slavery; she lived with her son’s family in Harlem until her death in1930. He married Baldwin’s mother, Emma Berdis Jones, in 1927, three years after Baldwin’s birth. Baldwin said that as a boy he naturally assumed that David Baldwin was his father; he added that he did not learn the truth until he was sixteen. He never found out anything about his biological father; his mother refused to answer any of his questions.After high school, Baldwin worked at a number of jobs in Greenwich Village and New Jersey. Encouraged by teachers and friends, who saw the signs in him of literary talent, the young Baldwin turned to the writing of essays, where he first made his mark on the American public.In 1948 Baldwin left the United States for France, seeking, like Richard Wright,the author of "Native Son" (1940) and "Black Boy" (1945) who left for France in 1947, to distance himself from the animosity between black and white Americans. Baldwin remained in France, mostly in Paris, for eight years. Thereafter he traveled back and forth between Europe and the United States.Baldwin made his first visit to the South in 1957, and this began his participation as a writer and an activist in the civil rights movement. The civil rights leadership was grateful for Baldwin’s work—his writings, speeches, fund-raising successes. But the leadership was also uneasy about Baldwin, largely because of his homosexuality. This was the reason, much to his disappointment and anger, that Baldwin was not allowed to address the 250,000 people gathered for the March on Washington, DC, in August 1963. From his background, he continually searches for identity and family togetherness in his writings.
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