James Baldwin's collection of essays, The Fire Next Time, is considered one of the most influential books on race relations published during the 1960s. Divided into two sections, the book urges the politicization of both African Americans and European Americans on the issue of racism. Baldwin explains that the radicalism and militancy of many prominent African Americans is a reaction to feelings of alienation inspired by traditional American society. Originally published as two separate works – "Letter from a Region in My Mind" in The New Yorker and "A Letter to My Nephew" in the Progressive – the essays were retitled "Down at the Cross" and "My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation" for their appearance in book form. Using rhetorical devices learned in his youth as a Pentecostal preacher and examples from his own life, Baldwin argues for an end to racism.
"Down at the Cross" is an analysis of the limitations of the Christianity that Baldwin practiced in childhood. Baldwin traces his personal history from his career as a junior minister and salesman and his exposure to Italian and Jewish cultures in his high school years. He concentrates his perception of the failure of the Christian church to address the problem of racism in general and his sense of alienation in particular. A good portion of "Down at the Cross" is devoted to an analysis of the Nation of Islam movement and its leaders Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. Although Baldwin recognizes that the Black Muslim movement emphasizes separateness and alienation, he values the Nation of Islam for using these feelings to create a sense of community among otherwise alienated African Americans. In "My Dungeon Shook," Baldwin urges his nephew not to base his sense of self-worth on his acceptance by American society but to grow personally so that he can accept society, with all its limitations, within himself.