After the murder of four children / James Baldwin.
Good evening. I hope that nobody will think I'm copping a plea if I say I'm a little tired. And so if you can't. Hear me. You have to let me know. Now why begin let me say this. I've said. Arbitrarily I've said us the somewhat delicate task of discussing. Our common trouble tonight. That is. There are some things that I want to talk about to suggest to you. And then I want to find out what you think and perhaps we can establish a dialogue and if we're extremely disciplined and hard headed. Passionate and moral we might be able even to rock that rock which is called Washington. I I don't think
I know in fact that when this meeting was envisioned on the 20th of August in Washington when Byatt suggested that we ought to have some kind of open discussion about what follows. WASHINGTON March obviously by the by oh no I don't know any of you suppose that less than four weeks later. We would be representative of a nation which is all which certainly ought to be in mourning. Now I did say some very reckless things tonight. And so I want to make it absolutely clear. That I'm talking for myself I am not. I might be at other platforms on other occasions more or less representing this or
that organization or this or that committee. But tonight. I am talking to you as Jimmy Baldwin who was born in Harlem 39 years ago who. Has a certain responsibility to the people that produced and that is all of you. And I'm speaking to you if I may say so not as an organizer and not as a Negro leader and not as a public figure not as a any of those things but as one of the poets. That you produced. We have to talk about economics tonight and in some detail we must talk about morals. And I think in some detail. We must talk about something even more difficult to put one's finger on. Which in the moment will call morale. And the assumption on which I am speaking is this that whether or not
we like it we have reached a point black and white in this country. Where all of the previous systems of communication. Negotiation accommodation has become unusable. To discuss the economics first. A few days ago. It was suggested by some of us as forcefully as we knew how that in order for the country to be unable. To ignore. And forget the slaughter. Of six children in an American city. And in order. To join the issue.
And bring the battle to where the battle really is that is to say to strike at the economic structure. That no one. Black or white should buy any presents for Christmas. I think that we should spell this out perhaps a little more precisely. I mean now I'm speaking for myself. But in this Christian nation Christmas is mainly. As indeed our most church is a commercial endeavor having nothing whatever to do with the birth. All the death. Of Christ. That. If one begins to serve notice ultimately on the banks
that we the citizens of this country do not consider. That we have the right to celebrate Christmas this year and that furthermore we will use every weapon in our power to force this on the attention of the American public which unluckily I have to say has conscience in many in its pocketbook. I believe that we will begin to see some notion of our potential power. Let me put it this way. Before. This country was a stablish when the country was being established. And this apart from what one's textbooks say. And in contradistinction to the television myth about the building the discovery of America the people came to America. As it turns out one of the heroes saints no pilgrims.
They were simply people who couldn't make it where they were. And that is why they came. To. Have am. They came here. To make as we like to say a better life for themselves and their children. And as it turned out and as it always does indeed turn out what they meant by a better life for themselves and their children was the opportunity to make more money and oppress somebody else. Have they. Thank you. Which is what they did. The Indians had vanished except for those we have under protective custody. And in order to build the country. It was necessary to find.
A source of cheap labor and then have for. 400 years later. I represent the only man who never wanted to come here. I thank you. Thank you. But if I had not come under the double coercion of the Bible and the gun. Thank you. I very much doubt. That we would have all those railroads and cotton would never have become king. And in short the American economy would be at best a very different matter. Now if we had the economic weight to line the
track and dam the rivers. And hold the cotton. And also raise the children we can now use that to wait for the first time. For ours so as and for the liberation of this country. Thank you. Thank you. It is not true that there is nothing Negroes can do to help themselves. A A and B it is not true that we this nation must be perpetually blackmailed by our government. The government represents us. Thank
you. And finally you see neither is it true. As so many other negroes friends would have us believe that the only terms on which we can move to freedom are the terms of how we actually know how to go. We the People are responsible for our own freedom. We are not begging for it. It is up to us to take it. Thank you. Oh OK. Mr. Livingston said a little earlier something I would like to power a phrase he said quoting a friend of his in Birmingham and the only thing worse than being black in Birmingham is being black and white together. But I'd like to paraphrase that a little bit.
Speaking now of morality that the only thing worse these days than being a black man in America is being a white man in America. Oh uncle I mean we're living in a segregated society which does not mean as people imagine that it is simply I who am segregated. It means you are we all all and we cannot talk to each other because of the cost of social custom and the tyranny of us that will no doubt change the OS. Thank you.
When I talk about economics therefore. I am trying to suggest to you to all of you. That all of you begin to think in very concrete terms for example. Birmingham is a monstrous city indeed. But Birmingham is not really any worse than New York. There is no place. Thank you. There is not one square inch of American soil. In which a black man can be considered to be free. And if that is so Will Blackmon that is true for all of us. Thank you. It was New York. It is not a segregated city. By an act of God. Or by accident it is a segregated city partly because a vast number of people. And a vast complex of
interest make a tremendous profit on the blood of black boys and girls. It's. On the continued imprisonment and we continue to modernization. One tenth of our population now every So that home exists principally for the benefit. Of people who like money. Then it is also possible. Then one can begin to organize in the ghettos of this nation. A massive civil disobedience campaign. And let me let me spell out a little bit. I want to be as precise as I can. What I mean by that. I was born in Holland. I was raised in Harlem and indeed as long as I live I will never be able really to
leave. They say you can take the child out of the country but you can take the country out of the child. I know therefore what what rents one paid for what I know what you pay for meat cabbage clothes life insurance theft insurance fire insurance and all of this money. He says Ladies and gentleman helps to feed the oppressor. Who uses the money to keep you in jail. Now is it worth considering. What one might be able to do
even instead of meekly submitting to this species of great one decided that instead of paying the rent one refuse to pay the rent and when it is said that it is illegal to pay the rent. The answer is it is immoral to charge rent for the houses in which we live. I think that this for example. Among other things begin to post the economic structure to deal with the problem which will destroy us if we do not deal with it because no matter what I may feel for example about nonviolence no matter how I feel about people people should treat each other and matter how I try to live my life. I'm also aware and I must be aware that most people are
not really interested or do not dare perhaps. In any case do not. Act toward others. As they would like to have others act toward them and therefore. There is something ultimately futile and her a bit dangerous with having so many Negro boys and girls and men and women in the streets so long. I know. That is peculiar country. Has admired. The doctor nonviolence for six or eight or nine years. And is up for it. All those children and all those ministers and all the men and women who went to jail. Who got beaten the chain and the
hold. And who were attacked by dogs has admired them and is a nothing what ever to help them. Great thanks. Thank you. And furthermore not only that it would be bad enough intends to keep on in my doing that thing going to jail. And doing nothing whatever to help. Now I think it is time to blow the whistle. I think it is time to begin to deal with the power structure we're not dealing with white people is not a matter of what white people think about you all but you know what they say about themselves. What one has to do. Is examine and overhaul the system.
The system which creates the picture of the bad. You've. Thank you. It is very important because I think that probably ought to make. I was going to point out I think that in this country since the McCarthy era. And as one of the reasons why Absolutely absolutely spectacular impotence anyone mention the word economics was promptly given a ticket to Moscow. I think it is beneath me to say that I'm not a communist. I think it's beneath a nation and very dangerous for the nation to raise this peculiar red herring. The moment I begin to deal with things as they are of the.
Of the. Nation which in my eyes the doctrine of nonviolence has never been my experience and never as far as I know its history which began if you remember in Europe and my nonviolence for. One of the myths of the English is they would never be slay. It's one of the reasons Gary Cooper was such and Humphrey Bogart which powerful movie stars they always had a gun. It's only when a black man says that he might go out and find himself a gun that the country becomes Christian from the first and only time have all of the. Thank God thinking to myself and trying as best I can discharge my take to be my responsibility to everyone in the street including me. I don't want
to see any more blood. Nobody's blood. My God. No. We could end the nightmare tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock. I could die you know in peace. But in fact the nightmare will not be ended tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock and the nation which is in Maya these boys and girls and men and women overlook the fact that a boy who was there as a 17 in 1955 has now spent eight years in the streets is probably in a doctor's care after being beaten half to death by the power structure ladies and gentlemen not only by some idle policeman the policemen know they're working for. Thanks. Thanks I will but this time the boy. And his wife. And his children. Are very nearly at the end of their own. And all about
to crack. This is why it is so important now to try to be precise about what it is that we must do. It is impossible. All my liberal friends and critics to the contrary. It is absolutely impossible. For any Negro in this country to be fitted into the structure as it now exist. That is not a possibility thanks. Thank you. One must be willing to take upon oneself the responsibility. Of examining and changing the structure so that it comes more human to everybody. Thank you. Whether negroes friends pretend and I'm sorry baby with friends like that don't need no enemies. You know. I wasn't a close friends pretend. Is that all the negro wants is just another
Cadillac. He wants to get to be just like Eisenhower. Well I speaking for myself. I would rather cut my throat and suppose that my forefathers Benten suffered and died for this in this country in order to become yet another plank of mediocrity. Thank you. It was what we can do. And again if you remember what I try to say about economics and I talk about the landing of the track and what would have happened if we hadn't lined the track. If you think about the myth that American white people have made about American black people you begin to have some notion of the weight. Black people have in white people's consciences. It was never true for example that I came here wanting to rape nobody you know.
And in fact I very rarely carried a knife. And I'm not a home I like but the myth. To which one is subjected. Are the most terrifying symptom of the emotional and spiritual and sexual poverty and the panic of the American people. If one is aware of this then one recognizes I think this is the most valuable suggestion. There is not the negro who is in jail. It is white people who are in jail. Thank you. Of the. When white people can't produce when this white Republic can't produce industry to Birmingham for example.
Children who can do with those what those black children did then. We may be beginning to approach equality. Of the bill. I think the other reason and perhaps the most important reason that I'm throwing these suggestions out to you tonight. Is that in this country every black man bone in this country until this present moment is born into a country which assures him in as many ways as it can find that he is not worth the dirt. He walks on. Every negro boy and every negro girl born in this country until this
present moment undergoes the agony of trying to find in the body politic in the body social outside himself herself some image of himself or herself which is not demeaning and you dabbed me you check out your text books and Hollywood to name only those things. I. Now many indeed have survived it and at incalculable cost. And many more have perished and are perishing every day. If you tell a child and do your best to prove to the child that he is not worth life it is entirely possible that sooner or later the child begins to believe it
and act on it. It is one of the reasons if I may be rude but in every ghetto in this country. Saturday night is a dangerous night among Negroes. They let it out with each other because they are too intimidated by what we still refer to as a man. And what I am trying to suggest is that we have the power to force the country to change it Jim is of us and we can do this by proving to ourselves and to the country what we can do for ourselves. We don't need yet to become the president of General Motors. We still need to call a country on the common disaster and I cannot put 20 million people in jail.
You're listening to James Baldwin voices of Pacifica. You can obtain a copy of this program and public radio programs by calling 1 800 7 3 5 0 3 0. Something happens to a person as I know we all know when Yaz achieved his first breakthrough. Oh I know that my own life for example is that I've been scared to death for thirty nine years and six months. And all I know about fear is that you're afraid of it. Walk toward it. No Negro in this country and
no citizen of this country who aspires to create this country has any reason whatever to be afraid. Let us say for example Canada Eastland. We must make. Can I say the establishment afraid of us. And it is perfectly true. I am speaking only for Jimmy Baldwin again. That everybody in the country in Washington. Was terrified of the very idea of a march on Washington. And did it and can scarcely be said to embraced it until I realized they couldn't call it all was. Now we begin to assess our real weight
our real potential in the light of our common danger. We can get through this. We can win. We can turn the country into something which makes it a little less difficult to become a man. It is very odd to be black and grow up in this country. A man who is a friend of mine said is a very dangerous persecuted for a black man. But I beg you to observe that it is also become a very dangerous person for a white man. That is one of the reasons for Birmingham. It is not possible that all those people in that city really believed or really believe that they had the right to slaughter children. They
don't believe that they're afraid to speak. One of the reasons they are afraid to speak is that the standards by which we live. Black and White North and South in this country are livable standards. It is not important to be safe. It is not important to get a car. It is not important to make it. It is important to become a man. And this is what we have forgotten. And that is one of the reasons and the caliber of our political representatives has become. One of the mockeries of the 20th century at. Of that there is my friends really a point to which one has to say I will not choose between the lesser of two evils.
There is no such thing as a lesser opportunity. Of that is a political machines in Washington and elsewhere in the nation cannot. So what. Better material. Than Mr Goldwater Mr Nixon Mr Canaday and so on down are extremely dreary and I know I am of the. Then perhaps we the people whom these dreary people are supposed to represent ought to find a way of being represented. I have the of the. Of.
Course we are not always. I to mercy of our political institutions. If we created them we are responsible for them. We have the right and the duty to overhaul them to change them. We are not always or health it is. The Senate Hughson has to stay there forever. I have both said go ahead. Isn't it a scandal. That in a civilized nation the death of six children should be met by the cynical. I repeat cynical. Appointment of a football planner an ex-general I have the.
Of the book. I dare them to go to any Birmingham barber shop and talk to anybody. I daren't. Thank you. And I think that commission deployment that commission the very notion and the apathy which a country has greeted it proves my point. We have no right to allow the death of six children and our common disaster in our common crisis and our moral crisis to be met in this way. It proves if anything does. Look. At the terms of negotiation. We must now be radically changed. One cannot negotiate with the representatives of one's oppressor.
Thank you. Why one must really one must force the administration to recognize that as long as these women hold whose office is Democrat no one wants a free country can go to the Democratic ticket of the one as long as Goldwater holds his place. No one who wants a free country can both the Republican ticket of the. It is time to let the nation know that the death of my child. I as a black man and the spiritual death of your child you is a white man cannot be met
by sending down a commission to find out what happened we know what happened. Of. Of going. Wild we had to do is prevent it from happening again. And in order to do that one doesn't beg the Birmingham City Fathers for a truce. You use whatever weight you have to post and to recognize your presence in that city in that state and in this country. As a matter. Of them. No matter what it cost who I was I had two more things that I will leave you. One of them is it's very important to recognize that the economy in which we are so proud has very shaky foundations.
It is very important to recognize that in any case the economy as it now exists cannot does not and cannot supply full employment. There are more white people out of work numerically than negroes and the future does not look bright. For her. Thank God and in my view I'm going to be corrected. I think it is better to spotlight this condition now than wait and have a collapse. Embers Liberte chaos. God. We can guide the avalanche or we can try. We haven't got to surrender to it and the last thing I want to say to you to suggest to you is that we in this country black and white do have in our hands at this moment a norm. It's an expensive opportunity if we can think through
our situation if we can face it. We can do something which is not been done in the history of the world before. The terms of our Revolution the American Revolution the terms of these. Not that I drive you out or let you drive me out but that we come together and embrace and learn to live together. That is the only way that we can have achieved the American Revolution. Now we can face this and involve a great many things. It demands of white people face the fact that I for example any black person they will ever meet oil or have ever met. I'm not an exotic rarity. I'm not I'm not a stranger. I'm one of those thing. On the contrary Paul
you know for all you know I might be your uncle your brother. Because then. Thank you. Thank you. Among other thing. To. One other thing that has happened here and the best knowledge of the deep south proves it. That was the best knowledge of the lot which dictates them they move out and I move in. Among other things which have to be excavated here is the fact that this long history is also the history of our love affair. One has got to face this. I no longer really black. Maybe I would like to be. Maybe I'd like to go back to Sierra Leone for example that is where I came from. But I have been here a long long long long time
and I am now a part of you and you are a part of me. And the conditions of maturity which is our survival is that we accept this fact and rejoice in it. If we could do that we might open up. And by the example of our own lives and body. Part an ability that in the future mankind all over the world. Would not find it necessary to blow each other up in order to settle a quarrel. Thank you. Thank you. That was a talk by James Baldwin in New York City September 25th 1963 less than a month after the March on Washington. In 10 days after the infamous Birmingham church bombing that resulted in the
deaths of six children.
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- After the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, James Baldwin spoke to an overflowing crowd at the New York Community Church. Baldwin spoke against the use of terrorism to achieve political aims. The speech was recorded by WBAI at the New York Community Church, 25 September 1963.
- Event Coverage
- 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, Birmingham, Ala., 1963; Terrorism -- United States; African Americans--Civil rights--History
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Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: 10282_D01 (Pacifica Radio Archives)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- APA: After the murder of four children / James Baldwin.. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-959c53fb23