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Blues for Mister Charlie

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,219 ratings  ·  86 reviews
In a small Southern town, a white man murders a black man, then throws his body in the weeds. With this act of violence--which is loosely based on the notorious 1955 killing of Emmett Till--James Baldwin launches an unsparing and at times agonizing probe of the wounds of race. For where once a white storekeeper could have shot a "boy" like Richard Henry with impunity, time ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published April 25th 1995 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1961)
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4.12  · 
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 ·  1,219 ratings  ·  86 reviews

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Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: black-writers
Blues for Mister Charlie (1964) is James Baldwin's first play. It is very distantly based on the case of Emmett Till – a 14-year-old African-American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after a white woman said she was offended by him in her family's grocery store. Despite confessing to the murder, the two white men were acquitted. And so Baldwin's play deals with the aftermath of the brutal murder of the young black man Richard by the white townsman Lyle.
The play then, for me, takes place i
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Baldwin wrote this play in response to the murders of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers. Baldwin had traveled with Evers to the backwoods of Mississippi as the latter investigated the death of a black man by a white storekeeper: a scary time, place and circumstances for both men due to the color of their skin. Earlier Baldwin had resisted the idea of his writing a play, but the personal impact of Evers’ death compelled him to do so.

The play reads as if it would be a solid enough play to see, perhaps
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am trying to work my way through Baldwin's entire canon.

This is solid writing. But I think my favorite writing is in his introduction to the work.

I understand what Baldwin is trying to do here. He wants to make a one-dimensional character three-dimensional. We get the story of the death of an African-American male in the south during the 1960's. Racism is rampant and you are privy to conversations, albeit imagined, between the white southerners that attempts to give credence to their myopic
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
A play inspired by the story of Emmett Till, I knew this would be a rough read but underestimated by just how much. For majority of the play, Baldwin had me convinced that the story wouldn’t play out the way Till’s story did but in the end, it shook me completely to realize just how indifferent the world really is.

In his introduction, Baldwin tells us:
The plague is race, the plague is our concept of Christianity: and this raging plague has the power to destroy every human relationship.

The play
May 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Malik Cooper
English Period 3
Banned Books Essay

Books that are banned from schools are books that are looked at by parents that complain about things that some of them have probably did. They are just too afraid to sit down with the child and talk to them about the different things in the world. So the child goes and gets books to read and learn on their own. If all the books get banned and we have parents afraid to sit down and talk about sex, drugs, and violence how will we learn? You can experi
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Jul 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
A punch in the chest: a raw look at race and justice in the 1960s - inspired by the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, "Blues for Mister Charlie" is the story of a white man who is acquitted of a black man's murder, and the issues it causes every one around him to confront. Though I love "Uncle Jimmy's" essays and fiction much better, this is still a must read of his canon. Can't wait to see this piece performed.
Kamron Alexander
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
i am not yet sure what makes a play great, or a revelation. i haven't read enough. but what i do know and can lean on with all the weight of my heart, is when a work pulls me up, and out, and all about. which is what this play did. i finished it in tears, as i knew i was. baldwin, you are my saving grace.
Mike Thomas
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just waiting for Barry Jenkins to turn this into a movie.
Francesca Calarco
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written in honor of the activist Medgar Evers and young Emmett Till, James Baldwin crafted a great play that still resonates to this day with Blues for Mister Charlie.

Taking place in a southern U.S. town, the stage of the play is split into Whitetown and Blacktown, where the audience can witness different perspectives and reactions from characters in response to the murder of young, black Richard who has just returned home from the North. His murder is cruel, and watching how an entire communit
Oct 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
The 1955 murder of 14-year old African-American boy Emmett Till was brutal and shocking by any standards. After speaking to a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store, Till was kidnapped and taken to a barn where he was beaten and had his eye gouged out before ultimately being shot in the head and dumped in the Tallahatchie River.

Roy Bryant was acquitted of murder despite pretty much bragging all over town that he did it.

Blues for Mister Charlie changes the names, but is based on the events o
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A scatter-shot re-telling of the Emmett Till case with the same hamfisted and overcooked staging of One Day, When I Was Lost. The introduction to the play is a worthwhile read if only to capture Baldwin's mission with the play as well as the understanding that this play was more of a moral obligation than a passion project (as one who has little nice things to say about the theater). Just a smattering of issues: the trial scene in the third act is a labored contrivance in a way that I suppose ma ...more
Gaelan D'costa
Apr 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: plays, anti-racist
Like most of Baldwin's work I find his anti-intolerance stance admirable. The book did not catch my attention either as a play or a statement. Unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, which felt a bit more universal, this book doesn't escape the world it was set in.

I can respect the historical significance of this book, but to a twenty-first century whippersnapper for whom racial coexistance is not an opption but implied in existence, the issues it deals with are disrespectfully and --yes, naively-- discar
Mar 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
i read this in one sitting. it's always a good sign when a book causes you to actually laugh, cry, guffaw, and such out loud. considering baldwin didn't really do drama (in the intro to my copy he writes that he never intended to do drama at all and actually hates the form), but he does a really great job with it. the setting and scene directions are great. i could visualize the stage set up while reading it and the physical set up added a lot to the action. wish i could have seen this performed ...more
Maughn Gregory
Aug 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
A bitter experience, reading this play. An ugly story (based on the case of Emmett Till), beautifully told. Baldwin portrays the disfigurement of race, sex, and Christianity in mid-20th-century America, and offers little hope for redemption.
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
After seeing the recent doc 'I Am Not Your Negro', I wanted to become more familiar with James Baldwin's work. ~which led me to this play. Baldwin was, of course, not primarily a playwright. As he explains in his intro, he didn't particularly like theater but he gave it more thought in 1958 when Elia Kazan encouraged him to write a play.

For someone not all that drawn to playwriting, Baldwin (here) has fashioned quite a powerful piece. It was produced on Broadway in 1964 (directed by Burgess Mer
Kim Williams
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My obsession with James Baldwin this year continues with this incredible play. Loosely based on the murder of Emmett Till, this was a project that had been on Baldwin's mind for some time before coming to fruition. In it both sides of racism are explored from both the Black and White perspective.
Blacktown and Whitetown find themselves increasingly at odds as a conviction and trial draw near for the alleged murderer of a preacher's son. Most of the town lines up on their respective sides; the w
Alonzo Church
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
My thoughts on a classic really don't amount to much. This play was written to shock -- shock at the language a black man uses when talking to a white woman, and talking among his friends. It says something about where we are as a country that the language no longer shocks -- we hear it pretty much daily if we watch drug dealer action movies on Cinemax.

The story itself screams 1960s in some ways -- particularly with the traditional white liberal stumbling about trying to keep his peace with the
B Sarv
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have trouble reviewing this too negatively because I do not read a lot of plays. Also, the set that I have to compare it with is relatively small. The best play I have ever read is “Ti Jean and His Brothers” by Derek Walcott. This play doesn’t compare. But then Walcott was a playwright and a poet. Baldwin was an essayist and novelist.

In this play I was struck by the role of Juanita. She was the bridge between younger men, older men, black men and one of the white male characters. I’m not trai
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
In my review of The Amen Corner I mentioned that I'm glad I read it, but that I wish I would have seen it acted instead. That applies here too. There's quite a bit in this play I think would probably flow better on stage than in my mind just sitting and reading it.

What keeps striking me with Baldwin's work is that almost 60 years later his books are still very current. The more things change the more they stay the same. I would say it's especially prescient considering that there are still cases
Kylee Ehmann
Anything James Baldwin ever wrote is always worth a read, and Blues for Mister Charlie is no exception. It is a searing and painful read, and doesn't flinch away from the brutal realities of racism. Reading this book was another example of being reminded how little progress we've truly made in terms of racial equity. If you replaced the murderer's occupation of storekeeper with that of cop, this play could have been written last year instead of the 1960's.

Baldwin was one America's greatest write
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
When I first read "Blues for Mister Charlie" decades ago, I found the play's extreme polarization between blacks and whites contrived. Now, I'm sorry to report it feels incredibly, painfully truthful. There a lot of fury in James Baldwin's courtroom drama about a murdered young black man but there's a lot of compassion and sorrow in it, too. As with everything he writes, this drama has a sense of immediacy to it, an immediacy that hasn't lessened over the years but has stayed as urgent and clear ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
This play has some nice lines and the characterization rings true to me. I would really like to see a production of it.

The title translates into blues for white people. So it's the blues -- all the hardship of black Americans -- brought home for white Americans as audience.

Maybe that’s why Baldwin did it at the Actor’s Studio, although I'm not sure of the racial makeup of the audience. You sense, maybe, a strain in having to tell this story to people who don't want to hear it, or who are too inv
Feb 05, 2018 rated it liked it
This was good, but did not for me add a great deal to my understanding of Baldwin as an author. As always his ability to create understanding of his characters, from so many different angles, is sublime, but I felt it tread many of his same themes and conflicts in similar ways to his novels. Shirt and enjoyable, but not especially memorable (in written form at least. I’d love to see a production of this play)
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a play and reads that way. This, however, does not detract from how powerful it is. A man was murdered and the man who killed him was found not guilty. But this also delves deeper into people's thoughts and is so profound.
Krystal Peak
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I can’t express enough how deeply relevant and impactful this three act play is. Written more than 60 years ago in the Jim Crow south and with little adaptation, is still happening today. Jame Baldwin’s work is a heart wrenching treasure that should be required reading.
Saidah Henderson
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am a big Baldwin fan. I am not a big fan of reading plays... which this is. But it was written well of course and gave Mississippi Burning appeal.
Jacklyne Muchiri
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The struggle continues...
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting, brutal, and fiery.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: baldwin
Unfortunately, Baldwin's passion is still timely. I found the story of his inspiration, as written in the foreword, very interesting.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. He was the eldest of nine children; his stepfather was a mini
“Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel; the wet eyes of the sentimentalist betray his aversion to experience, his fear of life, his arid heart; and it is always, therefore, the signal of secret and violent inhumanity, the mask of cruelty.” 12 likes
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