Blues for Mister Charlie

by James Baldwin

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 228

Blues for Mister Charlie is a 1964 play, in three acts, by James Baldwin. It was inspired by the murder of Emmett Till, an African American boy killed in Mississippi in 1955. Baldwin uses the play to challenge conventional social and racial narratives of morality.

Act 1 of Blues for Mister Charlie opens with the dignified Meridian Henry, pastor of an African American church in a Southern town, helping his students rehearse lines. This opening is interrupted when Parnell James arrives to tell Henry that the police are about to arrest Lyle Britten for the homicide of Richard Henry, Meridian Henry's son.

I can't stay. I just came to tell you that a warrant's been issued for Lyle's arrest.

It is this point that launches the play.

Later, Reverend Henry tells Richard—who is introduced as a character in the play—that he finds the notion that whites are responsible for society's problems difficult to believe. Richard replies:

I'm going to treat everyone of them as though they were responsible for all the crimes that ever happened in the history of the world—oh, yes! They're responsible for all the misery I've ever seen, and that's good enough for me.

At the end of the play, Lyle Britten reveals his underlying motivation for Richard's murder:

I had to kill him! I'm a white man! Can't nobody talk to me that way!

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