James Baldwin’s Blues Sensibility

Looking forward for transcendence requires looking back with honesty. Essential to both: story sharing. Call that a blues sensibility. In November 1960 James Baldwin delivers a lecture in Stetson Chapel. Decades later the story of Baldwin’s visit inspires a timely story gathering. The voices are members of the Kalamazoo community recalling their experiences during the civil rights movement. The story gatherers are K students. That gathering effort—also known as “building the archive”—was a collaboration between Professor of English Bruce Mills’ senior seminar on James Baldwin and the Society for History and Racial Equity (SHARE), a local nonprofit organization founded by Donna Odom ’67. This K-Talk by those collaborators is fascinating, in part, because it’s far less lecture than it is story sharing, including, among others, stories from or about Harold Phillips, Walter Hall, Paul Collins, Robert Stavig, and, of course, James Baldwin. Mills and Odom and the other participants in this singular event show the power of storytelling to connect and celebrate diversity and to unite diverse individuals in the acts of imagining and then making a future that includes us all. The work’s neither quick nor easy, and needs that blues sensibility.