“No Name in The Street” is the title given to a work of art James Baldwin penned in 1972. This production of a master wordsmith chronicles certain events of his life up until that point. It’s poignant that the words he forged 42 years ago are still razor sharp and piercing in regards to the times and issues of today. His words then, as they are now, are glowing red hot concerning the issues of today. It is a great failing of American society and culture that these words, this wisdom titled “No Name in The Street” has been meat in the pot of American sub consciousness for nearly half a century, and the same words are still said and still, fall on deaf ears and dead hearts. The same passionate reactions and same pin point accuracy that “No Name in The Street” voiced about race relations, police brutality, and the injustice of the American system labeled justice, has not changed. The attitudes that birth and nurse these demons of society have only evolved and added technological ways of camouflaging themselves, but the same bitter and rotten blood that Baldwin wrote of still pumps vigorously through America’s veins.
I would not say that is an autobiography in the traditional, or what a publisher would ask for sense. “No name in The Street” does not follow the liner path that has become the rule-of-law prescribed to modern and most autobiographies. The book does open with him writing about his childhood but what he does write about circles the relationship between his older brother and father. The book then jumps about twenty years or so to his time in France, witnessing the brutality that Algerians were suffering. Baldwin, like Langston Hughes, marveled at how well the French treated him as a Blackman from America, shellshockingly different from the treatment he had received in America. Baldwin, like Langston, soon came to see that was only spared the tragedy of American style hate in this society because at that time in France it was already in use and they focused it upon North Africans. Baldwin, like Langston, eventually had enough and could not idle hemisphere away while witnessing a people not his own suffer like his people whom were being brutalized in America and eventually left.
In “No Name in The Street” Baldwin gives praise to the Black Panthers, something that very few black public figures did at all at that time and rarely ever did openly. He addresses how the police were constantly on guard and the instigators with the panthers. How the media painted the panthers as violet gun totters but never spoke of the community programs that were started by the panthers. Baldwin even wrote about how it frustrated the police that the panthers were not in possession, even in the smallest amount, of the fear that the they attempted to instill. Baldwin also speaks of his depression having spoken with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King face to face weeks and even days before they both were assassinated. He wrote that the new suit he brought to meet Martin and then for an event with Malcolm also became the suit he wore to their funerals and how he could never bring himself to ever wear that suit again. The suit also became an entry way back into the neighborhood he grew up in and showed him how much he had transitioned from what people thought they knew about him to what was actually the truth about him.
By Christopher F. Brown