Baldwin at the Masonic Temple / James Baldwin.
Good evening ladies and gentleman. I'm Wilfrid T. Asari. Chairman of the San Francisco chapter. Of core. The Berkeley Oakland and San Francisco chapters of Core. Are proud to present a man whose own words are his most eloquent introduction. Mr. James Baldwin. After.
Thank you all very much. I am going to. Discuss all. Speculate. On something which I call. Maybe for the lack of a better word. The confrontation. I'll try to explain to you exactly what I mean by that. There's a line from needy. I think from Thus spake there are some strong. And the line is this. He says I stand before my highest mountain. And before my longest journey. And therefore. Must I descend. Deeper. Than I had
ever before descended. Now let's discuss. That is a confrontation. Let's discuss for a moment. What I take to be the nature. Of a confrontation. Which is in the mind anyway. Very closely allied to what we describe as a collision. In the case of a collision. Two irreconcilables meet head on and the great damage is done. Think of two trains and I don't know. What I am trying to suggest by a confrontation is something very close to that because. Implicit in any confrontation is a danger. And nothing more or less than a collision. Or put it another way.
What a confrontation really means that you are confronted. With something. Which you are not sure you can recognize. Or deal with. Would you also understand that you cannot escape. And if that is so. What must distinguish a collision from a confrontation is a level. Of human consciousness involved. Now I am not certain that I can make clear to you. What I mean. But I'm. Forced to take a few personal risk and use my personal experiences. As a man and as a writer. To make it as vivid to you in any case as I can. For example. When I
was little. In Holland. I'm a depression baby. There were nine of us and I was the oldest and I had to operate as a kind of buffer. Being my father whom I hated. And the other children. Whom I didn't hate precisely with whom I resented because they. Took up all my time and I used to dream when I was five or six years old. I was seven years old so I was really quite old so I was about 17. Other day when all this would be ended and I would be able to tell my father what I really thought of him I spent in short
the first 17 years of my life. Dreaming of being with and on my father. And on the wide world. This is perhaps important that I. Add to this. That one of the reasons I'm sure that I hated my father so much. Was because of the way the white world treated him. And because I knew. That he would not think about it and he wanted me to accept that bargain. If that is a bargain and I was unable to do it. However time passed I've home. This was by this time the war. And I was in defense my father's worst time variable. And since it was wartime. I made a vast amount of money. And since I was very different then than I am now I didn't drink or smoke. I didn't know what else to do with the money but send it all home.
And on the one hand I was somewhat too young to realize that my father was also very old that was part of the trouble. Had never in his entire life. Made as much money. As I was sending home every week. I say on the one hand I was too young to realize it. And on the other hand which is one of the terrible tricks of being an adolescent. I was very proud of it. I had bested him. I had proven myself. A better man than he according to me in those days. In the commercial marketplace. And then my father died. And I saw my father the day before he died and I knew that he was dying. And my father was a very big man. And I saw him in the hospital bed. He was smaller than I am now and
not standing up. And the man I hated so long. Did not exist any longer. There then John I dreamed about. Was involved with a big man standing on his feet. And out of love with a dying man who didn't know how they got there. I was a terrible confrontation because. It robbed me of what I thought of until then. As my raise on debt is my reason for being. It was a terrible confrontation because at that moment I was forced to realize. That what it really bugged me own Logie is. The truth about it. Was not that I had hated my father but that I wanted him to love me and all my plotting revenge was involved with proving to him. That I was worthy to be loved. It was a confrontation. Because it taught me everything I still know.
About it then. It changed forever. My sense of myself. And my sense of reality. He was the first man I ever hated and the last. That's one anecdote. I pray believe me I'm not. Going this self-exposure to be frivolous. And the second one is connected. And all of our commendations are connected. It was much later many years later. When I was trying to achieve the novel. My first novel. But out on the mountain in which. However. The novel actually turned out the central figure. Is based obviously on my father.
And I was miles away from home by this time. It was seemed like years but I was only five years. After my father's death. And in trying to achieve it I came up against the fact that I was ashamed of him. Ashamed of the blues ashamed of watermelon. A shame in fact as it turned out of me in order to do it. I had to. And I've written this down somewhere dig myself back. To what I had been before I knew who I was. Before I invented the cat that became Jimmy Baldwin. I was a stranger who was still dictating. Everything Jimmy Baldwin thought that he was doing. I had to remember how I must have talked and what I must have felt. But it was all still there. And what I had to turn to in order to
do it was precisely all those things I thought I'd thrown away. Jazz the watermelon to compete the way Harlem smells and sounded how much I loved it. How much I hated it. How it frightened me. And why I was frightened. In order to be liberated from it when I say liberated from it I don't mean kill it. I don't mean forget it. I mean I understand profoundly understand accept and be glad. That this stranger. Was all I've had to live with for ever and it was entirely up to me what the stranger became. And the point of all that is. That the terrible confrontation is precisely. That something in you know your sense of
yourself will be forever altered. It looks like a tunnel and it is indeed a tunnel. And you can see to the other side or it looks like a leap of death. You don't know. You never can know. Whether or not you will rise from the bottom of the ocean which is where you always got to descend. So this. Sense of Life. Is the sense of life. Which only grows. In this country. Have been false in order to survive. To make friends when. You go to bed with to even to wear it the way one way is or Oh. And it's also the sense of life. At which all art. And all morality depend.
And I say morality I want to make it clear. That I'm not talking about that set of coersion and conventions. That spiritual blackmail which we call public morality. I'm not talking about the football team. Which America presently seems to be. I'm talking about. One sense of oneself one sense of life. The extent to which you're trusted and the strength to the extent to which you bear it. And I like to point out this too. That we take to be the public morality. Is also a metaphor. For spiritual condition which is known as sloth. One accept it because it is there and it will not change it or even examine it. Because one is afraid. For example.
Even during my Christianity for the last few days. People say. I'm a Christian. And while his vast amount of talk about Christian nations. The way I was raised I was told that Christ said you became a Christian when you were born again. No one else can do that for you. And this being born again is precisely what I mean by confrontation. Well. I want to see you lambast a Christian church. But in the case of the Christian church what has occurred now is what I call a collision. There's a vast is a terrible collision me where Christians say they do and what they actually do.
And where they say they were going. And where we've actually arrived. And if. This journey has brought us to where we are then one's got to examine the principles on which is Journey was undertaken. And begin to look back. To look back. And tell the truth. About what we really wanted. And who we really are. Now. We have some metaphors in the American language. The sense of life I'm talking about. And you love the sense of rebirth Renascence renewal. Some metaphors for that fountain which is called Life which is all we have. When I said no to that. One cannot say yes to anything. Edge of field.
In the language used by black people. From the time they had a language here created a language here. For example. There was a slave who said. And the slave descendants until this day. Say. The very time I thought I was lost my dungeon shook and my chains fell off. If one bears in mind. All of our languages. Is the expression of a point of view. If one is prepared to accept the proposition. That it is really not possible for people not to say what they mean they are always saying what they mean is and never hear themselves. If this is so. Then the man who said the very time I thought I was lost my dungeon shook and my chains fell off. Speaking out. Of an extreme situation
out of a level. Adepts. A disaster. At which are at which level. One has to decide one's self and all by oneself. What do you think life is and whether you are going to live or die. If you listen to Ray Charles. Sing a very old ballad and his version of careless love with a moan I won't try to imitate. And he says in an indescribable way. If I didn't know if I could moan. Like a turtle I'd know for everyone I love. And I hearing that or anybody hearing that I say yeah. I was like that is not a tone which anyone can imitate.
As a tone which is almost never achieved. By any white American. Now the great confrontation that we face as evening is why. I've been doing it for years. And I'm trying to I'm not trying to put these people down but I've been doing it many years like Dad to have picked up a few items of an obsolete vocabulary obsolete by the time they hear it. And use it with me. Like legal tender. And I'm. Once too embarrassed. I won't say to kind to try to explain. The language he thinks he has picked up on has managed to.
Get came out of. Generations of anguish despair. Death and trial. When I was 10. And somebody said he was beat he was looking at your father coming up the block without any money and with no job and he said he was beat to his socks. I know a car a waxing speed mean. But that's what it really means. The recklessness. It looks like recklessness. I would say a cad like Rob Miles Davis is a recklessness of someone on a tight rope. It's got to look that way. But I think you're scared that's the end of you.
What is important here. Is it this way of life. This level of life. Has existed in this country for all these years and it is still a tremendous secret to most of the people in it that simply cannot be because. A white man is so different from a black man. If. One again speaking as a writer then. Knows anything about language. Even though every language is an expression of a particular point of view. What every language is viewing. Is a fact that one is born on. Oneself as. One die. Therefore. What the American confrontation is. Is not. God knows you negroes.
But with the American sense of life. We made a fantastic era in this country and the most ironical way possible. My presence here I mean the black man's presence here. Has allowed you. In some ways almost condemned you to make that era the era is a very simple one. One came to America. This is why it's called America I suppose because this was the place where all dreams were to come true. When one spoke of freedom as it turns out one did not mean freedom and if you doubt me or you think I'm being malicious you look at the record. Meant license freedom imposes the most rigid discipline and I don't mean by this they
be clear when I say freedom close the most rigid discipline. I don't mean. Armies over the sheriff or dictators. I mean that freedom imposes the great and rigid discipline of self responsibility. You are not free. When a No one is free. Who is not prepared. On every level of his life no matter what it costs. And for ever. There is no rest in sight for I have to be responsible for what he does. And what he become. No one is free who is not prepared to live intimately. With Fania. And with the knowledge of his own death. We have made a tremendous error of assuming that we have achieved a haven. And we could do that. Because it was not so very long ago.
That a collection of Europeans from everywhere in Europe and then later on to marry around the globe. Found themselves here and in exactly the same way that at some point in my life I was ashamed of my father. At some point in the American history all Americans were ashamed of Europe and still all of that not and it showed and it shows. In the Italian boy you will not speak Italian. The Greek boy you will not speak Greek. It shows what we call Americanisation. And what this Americanization as it turns out consist of is what we call upward mobility. Which means in short. That the first generation can't make any money by the surge generation cat. And in order to help you carry out this fantastic conspiracy against
yourselves. You had him. In his place as you like to put it. And you don't know how true that is in his place. The black man who promptly became. Everything that Americans were not going to be anymore. Who finally became in fact the only. Memory. Of Europe. This is a paradox but this is true all of the things which one at some point assume the ocean had forever saved us from. Were here suddenly. When the cardinal. Died in the track. As it turns out. Making your fortune in the US do you.
Confrontation. Is a very simple matter. Of whether Republicans now decide. And not sometime next week. Is what precisely had in its mind. They call me a nigger. What precisely. What. Human element. And you must remember that a human element. Is a universal element. What element in oneself was one denying. Maligning. Fleeing from. And one decided that people were different. The nice. White people. Every negro who manages. To speak one sends or put two sentences together. Knows by that
time. That the white people he is dealing with. Are not dealing with him. As a legend which accuses him of all these monstrous crime. Is created out of some he says today. On the part of the white man. Who he watches probably discover what precisely is bugging him. And partly because of course if you don't watch him. You may die. That again is an extreme situation. And since I think everything in time is still in time comes right back. Never goes anywhere. One's got to remember the extreme situation of which I spoke a few minutes ago is based on this Tablo. When I got here in chains. I don't know where I was. In order not to be controlled by the
people who had bought me. And I was shackled to. Couldn't speak my language I was confronted. AS. I got off if I survived the Middle Passage. But across and I Pavel. And I with. A gun. And what I had to do. Was look at the cause that's his eyes. And decipher the Bible that apparently that's his book and keep and keep a close watch on that gun. That way. This was done. By Christian nation. Not very long ago. The very same way. That any man who hopes to get to be a man any woman who hopes to get to be a woman any lover.
Hopes really to survive the confrontation which we call love is forced to deal with. Everything he's been everything he hopes and everything is done when a man says when a Negro man says you've got to pay your dues. When a grown man says you've got to pay your dues. That's what he means. You have to deal with everything that's ever happened to you and you've got to deal with everything you've done. No one can escape that. No one ever. Gets. Now this country would like to. This morning. Yesterday last week in talking about. That extraordinary collision call Birmingham. The real Tanna. Most of the question. It's from this I must say I accept the students but the real tenor of most of the questions coming from people of
my generation and older. Was. A desire to be reassured. That somehow Birmingham was not an America in the first place. And that the fire there because it might be localized and wouldn't spread to Detroit. Now if you bear in mind that people cannot help saying what they mean. And if you. As a new go has to do. Learn to listen not to what the man is saying I think she's saying but what the man means. This can only come out of some extraordinary knowledge buried so deep. That even he does know he has it. Why would you be worried about Birmingham if something you knew did not make you know.
What is happening in Birmingham is happening all around you and that in fact the new guy has never been happy in his place. What is happening is now for the first time in American history it is no longer possible. Blyde to oneself about it. That. Is the American panic the American collision which is our responsibility the right to raise to the level of a confrontation. It is our history which we are watching. Being acted out in the streets of Birmingham this this at tonight. We did it. There is no one under the sound of my voice and no one in this nation who can claim he is not responsible for it. What man does. And no country does. And any man who tries to remain innocent after the age of puberty can only become a monster
or a psychopath. And any nation. That pretend that I can somehow avoid the central facts of its own existence is on the road which now could be described. There was a town once some way I'm told called Cafe. All. And I'm not trying to rattle sabers. And I might be wrong but I mean this. Is a road and. It is the very same road. That led to Dachau. People have not got to be monstrous. Monstrous things done in the NE. You avoid reality long enough. Sooner or later you can never find it. And when you never find it. To open the door on chaos. Chaos I mean. The death. Of human beings a pairing. Being coveted by human beings who pretend it is not happening to them.
Any white man from this day forward who says. What does negro want. Oh. What do you think of intermarriage. All. Don't you think a negro. Can do more to help himself and all the variations on. A my. In Him and out. Now. I almost threw up. But anyone. Asking those questions. This. Has got to say to himself at some point he's got to examine. The assumption which those questions rest. One doesn't walk around saying what does what do the Chinese want. And you don't really walk around saying. What does my daughter want.
You know what you want. And you even know what you're afraid of. What you really mean when you ask those questions is for me to say. It's all right. Don't panic. We forgot all about those. Chains and whips. It didn't happen we didn't. You didn't do it. Ah Ed and please understand that I've seen no interest. In accusing you of anything. It doesn't matter. Life's too short. All that to go around saying Look what you did. But I was also too short. For you to go around saying I didn't do it. I.
Remember. What Nietzsche said. In the all those blues. All those gospel songs. You think you love. Consider the fact that I'm a Harry Jackson. From one place to another. They're liberated town. In the north. Called Chicago. She was met. Mahalia Jackson. Who sings all songs all Americans love. She was met with brick bats and obscenities on the sidewalk and broken windows. Now I know. Don't tell me. I know that none of you were there. But it happened. And it happened in your name. I know.
That none of you. Are in the streets of Birmingham last week but it happened in your name. As long as you keep on pretending. That you are not responsible for it. It will keep on happening in your name. And we may find ourselves one day. In a position in which one found the Germans at the end of the second world war and until now. When someone said. What about dark Isle the Germans said I wasn't political. We didn't know. Six million people were killed in Germany and nobody did it. I hope you don't think that I'm exaggerating. I hope you don't think. That I don't mean it. I know what people can do to each other. When they are afraid enough. I'll tell you how I know it. I know what you've done to me. I do something else. I know what you've done to you.
I stand. Before my highest mountain. And for my longest journey. And therefore must I descend deeper. Than I have ever before descended. What do you descend into. Is a sea of human experience. And what you come up onto. Is a hard light of human responsibility. I'll quote another sleigh. I handed the essay in The New Yorker. I meant this and remember that I am the grandson of a slave. I never go to myself in public before. I hope I never do again. But I said it and I meant it. If we do not now. Dare
everything. If we do not now day I can quote myself. I can remember the line anyway. I paraphrase it. If we don't. Dare everything by which I mean concretely. Attack. The assumptions. On which our political life is based. There is nothing sacred you know about the Democratic on the Republican Party. Many great nations men create parties and also destroy them. There is nothing sacred about real estate interests. There is nothing sacred about banks. There is nothing sacred in short about the status quo.
Which if one tries to keep it the status quo. Will kill us. If we don't dare. To examine really the assumption on which we live. And. Take that daring into the field of action. We are responsible after all. What goes on in Washington. We are responsible and we owe our duty to. The Kennedy brothers to let them know. That there's a population somewhere on this continent. We can say that society has become so complex that the matter is out of my hands. It can't be out of your hands. We did it. We have to undo it or change it. All of it. We had to accept the proposition. That there is absolutely no all. For
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- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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- James Baldwin delivering one of the talks, on his hopes and plans for changing the modern world. This one was recorded at the Masonic Memorial Temple in San Francisco on the evening of May 7.
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- Baldwin, James, 1924-1987; African Americans--Civil rights--History
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Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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Pacifica Radio Archives
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- APA: Baldwin at the Masonic Temple / James Baldwin.. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-n872v2ct06