As Black History Month made its 2024 debut on Feb. 1, so did a Google Doodle of civil rights activist and author James Baldwin. Created by artist Jon Key in a palette of black and violet, the Doodle imagines Baldwin in the role he is best known for, writing in his home office.
However, as a statement by his niece, Darlene Burnett, reminds us, James Baldwin’s career began well before he was known as one of history’s most evocative wordsmiths. He was initially a Pentecostal preacher, an influence that would remain in his passionate speeches and conversations as he spoke truth to power.
“An active voice in the civil rights movement, Jimmy vehemently spoke out against the racial ills of his country. A country that he loved, and openly criticized, but felt forced to leave for the more embracing arms of Europe,” read Burnett’s statement, in part. “Jimmy showed up in the world as himself. He was unapologetic and bold in his speech, his writings, and his sexuality.”
Similarly, Key’s work centers several themes parallel to those that were central to Baldwin’s life and work, specifically “Blackness, Queerness, Family and Southerness.”
“Baldwin’s radical and transformative writings and teachings continue to inspire my work and how I navigate the world as a Black queer person. His unapologetic stance about his identity was undebatable,” Key explained to Google, adding, “With the work I create, I am trying to manifest environments and community structures imbued with truth, pride, and love — tenets that I think are exemplified by Baldwin’s texts and life.”
In addition to commemorating the start of Black History Month, Baldwin’s Doodle also celebrates the centennial year of his birth. Born the eldest of nine children in New York City on Aug. 2, 1924, Baldwin’s talent would eventually cement him as a literary trailblazer as he boldly explored themes of race, Black masculinity and sexuality. His genius was not only recognized in the United States; as Google notes, Baldwin earned the Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur in 1986, considered “the highest French order of merit.”
“But Baldwin’s influence is much greater than any award,” Google continues. “[H]is works provided valuable representation to people whose stories often went untold, and inspired many civil rights leaders who, in turn, made progress in society that impacted generations.”
Key is among those impacted by the work of Baldwin and other creative predecessors. “Without the ancestors who came before us, we would not be here today. I am celebrating by feeling grateful, grateful for the opportunities paved for me to walk down by the Black and Black queer trailblazers.”
“I hope that people recognize that their own talents and strengths can also inspire a new generation,” he added. “Each of us [has] within [us] the power to create change.” To that end, Google is now inviting the public to create their own Google Doodles.
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