In the title essay of his landmark work, Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin commemorated two events having a special significance for him which occurred within hours of each other on July 29, 1943: the death of his stepfather and the birth of his youngest sister.
Prior to a final grim farewell visit with his dying father, who is no longer able to speak, Baldwin describes the experience of anticipating the imminence of life and death.
We sometimes amused ourselves, during those endless, stifling weeks, by picturing the baby sitting within, in the safe, warm dark, bitterly regretting the necessity of becoming a part of our chaos and stubbornly putting it off as long as possible. I understood her perfectly and congratulated her on showing such good sense so soon. Death, however, sat as purposefully at my father's bedside as life stirred within my mother's womb and it was harder to understand why he lingered in that long shadow. It seemed that he had bent, and for a long time, too, all of his energies toward dying. Now death was ready for him, but my father held back.
The Harlem Riot of 1943, which erupted only a couple of days later when a white policeman shot an African-American soldier in the Braddock Hotel, serves as a backdrop for the author's reflections on the impact of these events, as he surveys the scale of the wreckage left in its wake.
That bleakly memorable morning I hated the unbelievable streets and the Negroes and whites who had, equally, made them that way. But I knew that it was folly, as my father would have said, this bitterness was folly. It was necessary to hold on to the things that mattered. The dead man mattered, the new life mattered; blackness and whiteness did not matter; to believe that they did was to acquiesce in one's own destruction. Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law.