In this essential work, James Baldwin examines the Atlanta child murders that took place over twenty-two months in 1979 and 1980. Examining this incident with a reporter’s skill and an essayist’s insight, he notes the significance of Atlanta as the site of these brutal killings—a city that claimed to be “too busy to hate”—and the permeation of race throughout the case: the Black administration in Atlanta; the murdered Black children; and Wayne Williams, the Black man tried for the crimes. In Baldwin’s hands, this specific set of events has transcended its era and remains as relevant today as ever.
Rummaging through the ruins of American race relations, Baldwin addresses all the hard-to-face issues that have brought us to a moment in history when we are forced to reckon with some of the country’s most ingrained, foundational issues and when, too often, public officials fail to ask real questions about “justice for all.” In this, his last book, Baldwin also reveals his optimistic faith in America’s ability to move toward repair: “This is the only nation in the world that can hope to liberate—to begin to liberate—mankind from the strangling idea of the national identity and the tyranny of the territorial dispute. I know this sounds remote, now, and that I will not live to see anything resembling this hope come to pass. Yet, I know that I have seen it—in fire and blood and anguish, true, but I have seen it. I speak with the authority of the issue of the slave born in the country once believed to be: the last best hope of earth.”