'This Fight Begins In The Heart': Reading James Baldwin As Ferguson Seethes Protests in Ferguson, Mo., continue in response to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police on Aug. 9. The incident reminds author Laila Lalami of James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son.
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'This Fight Begins In The Heart': Reading James Baldwin As Ferguson Seethes

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'This Fight Begins In The Heart': Reading James Baldwin As Ferguson Seethes

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'This Fight Begins In The Heart': Reading James Baldwin As Ferguson Seethes

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Each week we recommend a must-read. And this week with the story in Ferguson, Missouri, of protests after the shooting of Michael Brown, we were reminded of an essay written decades ago. Writer Laila Lalami says the essay feels more relevant than ever.

LAILA LALAMI: It's early August. A black man is shot by a policeman. And for the community, the effect is like a lit match in a tin of gasoline. No, this is not Ferguson, Missouri. This was Harlem in 1943, and it's a scene set for us by James Baldwin in his essay, "Notes Of A Native Son." The story begins with the death of Baldwin's father, which happened just before the shooting. He was a severe man - a minister who was suspicious of all white people. But after James left home to work in New Jersey - after he was refused service in bars and restaurants and bowling alleys because of the color of his skin, he began to understand his father's point. He realized that his father had carried, as he put it, the weight of white people in the world. The trouble in Harlem that summer started because a white man had shot a black man. Harlem exploded. People smashed stores, pawnshops, restaurants - all the places that symbolized white power in a black neighborhood. On the day he buried his father, James Baldwin says that he drove through Harlem in a wilderness of smashed plate glass. Baldwin ends his essay on the shooting, the funeral and the riot with two realizations. The first, he writes, is that injustice is commonplace. But the second is that we must and never accept these injustices as commonplace, but must fight them with all our strength. This fight begins in the heart.

CORNISH: The essay and the book of the same title is "Notes Of A Native Son" by James Baldwin. It was recommended by Laila Lalami. Her new novel is called "The Moor's Account."

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