Harmony Holiday in Literary Hub:
In the summer of 1973 Time magazine decided not to run a piece that it had commissioned, a conversation between James Baldwin and Josephine Baker about the African American experience of expatriate life. Time claimed the pair was “passé,” a couple of relics. Henry Louis Gates Jr., then 22, having just graduated from Yale and been hired as summer correspondent for Time, had conducted the interview in France as part of a longer series on Black expatriates, investigating why they’d remained in self-imposed exile even after the civil rights gains of the 1960s. And Time helped answer Gates’s question for him, making blatant then what remains clear today: America doesn’t respect Black people. Gates would take the dismissal of his piece and its subjects as further evidence that he could accomplish more as a critic than a reporter to help shape the public’s sense of Black culture outside and beyond the media’s preoccupation with fads and bottom lines.
The transcription we are left with feels abridged, but it blooms with a sense of intimacy as we accompany Gates on his assignment, first to Josephine’s favorite restaurant in Monte Carlo—where she lives with her 12 children—and then to Baldwin’s residence in St. Paul de Vence, where the three of them share a long night of wine, food, and discussion that begins with Gates moved to tears at just being in his hero Jimmy’s presence.