Contents and Arrangement

Memo to Alex Haley, 1968 January 9

1 folder

Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information


Consists of sound recordings, a transcription, and editorial notes documenting multiple sessions of an interview of American writer James Baldwin conducted by Alex Haley (1921-1992) and Jim Goode (James A. Goode, d. 1992) in late 1967 and early 1968 for Playboy but never published in the magazine. At the time, Alex Haley was an interviewer and journalist for the magazine's monthly Playboy Interview feature, and Jim Goode was an articles editor. The interview is conversational and wide-ranging, with Baldwin responding to questions about his personal and artistic life, as well as about larger social issues surrounding racism, sexuality, politics, economics, and activism.

The earlier interview session conducted by Jim Goode, circa September 1967, is documented by a 170-page typescript transcription, with some handwritten corrections. Notations indicate that the transcription was made from four tapes, but the original sound recordings for this session are not included in the collection. In January 1968, Playboy editor Murray Fisher sent the transcription to Alex Haley for review, as indicated by a memo from his assistant. Sound recordings of later interview sessions conducted by Alex Haley, circa October 1967 through March 1968, are present on two open reel audiotapes, which have been digitized; these total three and a half hours in length. There are also four heavily annotated lists of questions for Baldwin drafted by several Playboy editors and journalists.

In the interview, Baldwin discusses his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood extensively, reflecting on his family and upbringing; his experience with religion and preaching; his schooling, early jobs, and friendships; as well as his later expatriatism in France (particularly so in the session with Jim Goode). Baldwin also speaks candidly about his sexuality in the context of his early relationships with both men and women, as well as physical threats he experienced due to both his sexual orientation and race. He also provides thoughts and critiques about African American civil rights and human rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Medgar Evers; activist organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); and politicians such as John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Ronald Reagan. He also describes events including the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP), which took place in Chicago in August-September 1967, and his meeting with Robert F. Kennedy on May 24, 1963.

Throughout the interview, Baldwin addresses legacies of racism and white supremacy in the United States and abroad, touching on the history of colonialism, genocide against Native Americans, and slavery, as well as contemporary power structures, opposition to which he describes as a type of "guerilla warfare." Other topics of conversation include the Vietnam War, FBI surveillance of black activists in the South, police violence and urban riots in New York, Chicago, and Detroit, the 1960s counterculture and student activist movements, white middle class liberalism, possibilities for an American socialism, the influence of money in politics, and the relationship between literature and politics.

Collection History

Custodial History:

From the estate of Alex Haley.

Archival Appraisal Information:

No materials were separated during 2017 processing.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

Open for research.

Access to digitized sound recordings is available in the RBSC reading room. For preservation reasons, physical access to original tapes is restricted.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Memo to Alex Haley; James Baldwin Playboy Interview, C1557, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

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Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box B-001100