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Building Baldwin

James Baldwin

When he was invited to Kalamazoo College′s campus in 1960, African-American writer James Baldwin knew he would be looking out at a mostly white audience. Kalamazoo College Professor of English Bruce Mills led a class this past year called “Building the Archive: Baldwin and His Legacy.” In the effort of rediscovering Baldwin’s visit to campus, the class studied and enhanced the K campus’ and Kalamazoo community’s archives and deepened students′ understanding of his writings.

In order to build an archive of Baldwin’s visit to K, Mill′s students interviewed people who were in Kalamazoo during the civil rights movements and alumni who were present for Baldwin’s speech. Interviews were made into a DVD/CD and hard copy transcriptions. A copy of each interview set was given to the Colleges archives and to the South West Michigan Black Heritage Society.

Many details from Baldwin’s visit have been lost or misplaced throughout the years, even the date that he actually came. College records show that he came in February of 1960. But one interviewee, a 1964 K graduate, said that couldn’t be correct. Also the front page of an Index student newspaper edition—dated November 16,1960—states “Novelist Baldwin Arrives on Campus For Week.” These are details that need to be further researched and rediscovered, said Mills.

Mills′s class read and discussed many books and essays by Baldwin, including the speech he gave at K, “In Search of a Majority.” Baldwin’’’’s books, essays, and speeches are still relevant to K students, says Mills, because he discusses sexuality, religion, race, and living as a foreigner, topics still important to students.

“The challenge from Baldwin,” said Mills, “is to be who we say we are. The challenge is to listen. Keeping alive his legacy as a writer is the reason to archive. It is important to archive now, because our sources of information are slowly disappearing.”

Story by Mallory Zink ′15

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