‘Going To Meet The Man’ by James Baldwin

Going To Meet The Man by James Baldwin, 1965

The magic trick:

Tying together a southern sheriff’s day of fighting with African-American protesters to a childhood memory of a lynching

This story is as brilliant as it is disturbing.

Baldwin makes the interesting choice of putting us inside the thoughts of a white sheriff in bed the night after an African-American protest. It’s an intense experience, but it turns out it’s only the beginning. His thoughts of the day segue into a childhood memory of him, at age 8, attending a lynching with his parents. It’s all equal parts shocking and realistic. The story ties it all together with a combination of violence, hate, fear, and, most notably, sexual desire. It’s terrifying. And that’s quite a trick on Baldwin’s part.

The selection:

That morning, before the sun had gathered all its strength, men and women, some flushed and some pale with excitement, came with news. Jesse’s father seemed to know what the news was before the jalopy stopped in the yard, and he ran out, crying, “They got him, then? They got him?”

The first jalopy held eight people, three men and two women and three children. The children were sitting on the laps of the grown-ups. Jesse knew two of them, the two boys; they shyly and uncomfortably greeted each other. He did not know the girl.

“Yes, they got him,” said one of the women, the older one, who wore a wide hat and a fancy, faded blue dress. “They found him early this morning.”

“How far had he got?” Jesse’s father asked.

“He hadn’t got no further than Harkness,” one of the men said. “Look like he got lost up there in all them trees – or maybe he just got so scared he couldn’t move.” They all laughed.

“Yes, and you know it’s near a graveyard, too,” said the younger woman, and they laughed again.

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