Davis W. Houck Florida State University

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“This Loaded Present”
Selma, 1963

1963 was a defining year in James Baldwin’s life as a public intellectual. Beginning in January with a trip to Jackson, Mississippi, and closing at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee conference in Washington, DC, Baldwin often frequented the speaking rostrum. On October 7, he spoke at a Freedom Day event organized by SNCC’s Jim Forman in Selma, Alabama. That speech, recorded by a private citizen and heretofore unremarked upon, can be productively read as part of Baldwin’s ongoing radicalization, away from a solution that privileged rhetorical (re)invention and toward destructive and collective acts designed to subvert American capitalism. At another register, Baldwin’s speech functioned as an important culmination to an eight-month campaign to bring voting rights—and the federal government—to Dallas County, Alabama.

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