NEW YORK, DEC. 8 -- The family and friends of James Baldwin celebrated his life today in a memorial service that brought together the two cultures -- black and white -- that he fought for a lifetime to reconcile.
In the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan, packed with 4,000 mourners, a gospel singer performed traditional spirituals, a choir sang Anglican hymns, and African drummers and jazz musicians paid musical tribute to Harlem's native son.
Baldwin, author of such works as "The Fire Next Time" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain," died Dec. 1 of cancer at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France. He was 63.
Scores of his contemporaries attended the service, including actors Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Cicely Tyson, activist Stokely Carmichael, photographer Gordon Parks, poet Sonia Sanchez and singer Bobby Short.
"It's the most powerful memorial I've ever been to," said a teary-eyed Betty Friedan. "You really feel the triumph of the whole civil rights movement."
Authors Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Amiri Baraka delivered eulogies, each remembering Baldwin not only for his contribution to literature but for his efforts to alleviate the plight of his race.
"Jimmy always let us know we were dangerously intelligent," Baraka said, "and as powerful as the will to be free. As we speak to ourselves and in ourselves, it is Jimmy's voice we hear."
Angelou, whose tribute was interrupted several times by wild applause and shouts of "Amen," called Baldwin one of the "elder deacons of our global Baptist Church." Baldwin, Angelou said, "wants us to love each other; and don't keep that good news to yourself that you love each other, go tell it on the mountain!"
Morrison said Baldwin's words "guided us through treacherous paths" and gave blacks the courage to face "an all-white geography ... this world could never be all white again."
Near the end of the service, a recording of Baldwin singing "Precious Lord, take my hand and lead me on" played over the loudspeaker, filling the cavernous cathedral with Baldwin's deep and soulful voice. The author's mother, elderly and frail, broke out in loud sobs, crying "Jimmy, Jimmy."
As Baldwin's casket was brought out onto the street followed by the members of his family, hundreds of people stood on the steps of the cathedral and on the sidewalk. Some crowded around the hearse; others hugged each other and cried.
Representing his country at the service, French Ambassador Emmanuel de Margerie quoted a passage from Baldwin's "Nobody Knows My Name":
"In Paris, I began to see the sky for what seemed to be the first time. It was borne in on me and it did not make me feel melancholy that this sky was there before I was born and would be there when I was dead. And it was up to me to make of my brief opportunity the most that could be made."