The Harlem high school James Baldwin attended now sits at 22 East James Baldwin Place after a section of 128th Street in New York City was renamed in honor of the literary icon.
The renaming ceremony took place outside of Harlem Renaissance High School, between 5th and Madison avenues on East 128 St., on Aug. 2—what would have been Baldwin’s 90th birthday. Baldwin died in December 1987 at the age of 63.
In attendance were members of Baldwin’s extended family, including his four surviving sisters, and the day’s events began at the historic Apollo Theater, which lit up its marquee in Baldwin’s honor.
Trevor Baldwin, a nephew of James and himself a writer, initiated the effort to have a street named after his uncle in 2012.
“[The renaming effort] was actually inspired by someone else who reminded me there’s no landmarks in Harlem with his name on it,” Trevor Baldwin told the AFRO. “So it was long overdue. I think his life work is more relevant today than ever before so it’s good because we get to revitalize his name and his message in terms of relating to contemporary, current events.”
Baldwin’s sister, Paula Whaley, a Baltimore-based sculptor and artist, said seeing her brother honored in this way was surreal.
“He would totally be in awe of all of this,” said Whaley.
In addition to family, the event was attended by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; CEO of the National Black Theatre Sade Lythcott; and poet, activist, and scholar Sonia Sanchez, among others.
Sanchez told the story of finding out Baldwin had died while she was in Trinidad. She said that when she heard, she proceeded to go outside, but was warned it was too dangerous at night.
“I said I have to go outside because I have to talk to brother Jimmy,” said Sanchez. “I have to tell him because of him, I am. Because of his work, he made me become the person that I am today.”
The only blemish on the event was the fact that the city failed to have the official street sign prepared and installed in time, forcing event organizers to show the crowd a large replica of the monument that will soon read “James Baldwin Place.”