100 years of freedom / James Baldwin
And hello if any of you can hear me let me know. I'm not going to talk to you very long. I don't really like to make speeches. I thought we had I would say a few things and then we would and you would ask me questions. And we get something started. I sort of have to begin with everybody's mind more or less here is where mine is too. With the recent events and in Birmingham Alabama. And we all have been in the last few days exposed to. Analysis and counter analysis and even charge and countercharge about the events down there. And there's no point going over again things I know you know too much about such details as hoses and dogs leashed on children. And the police chief said look at those niggers run. And the crisis now in Birmingham because they want our jails and paddy
wagons. These things we sort of know but it's a we sing them. But I want to suggest something beyond that. And it's this. I want very strongly suggested to you. Because you are the generation which may be able to make to achieve the American Revolution people 20 years older than you. I have several reasons for wanting to believe and probably leaving there what is happening in Birmingham is special. They didn't. They do not know and you know they want to know that many Negro born in this country Birmingham and especially talk. It seems melodramatic. If you're white. And if you know even if you are a member of the negro middle class. And you think that you have achieved a certain. Status security
that your children are relatively safe because you have a house and a car. And never have to deal with the naked fact to say we're geisha because if you have the money you can be protected against those. Both camps are deluded both are white people who think they are going HAM special and negroes who think they can somehow escape the implication of the presence of a city in this country. My point is when I travel south the first time I was past 30 I've been of out of this country for a very long time. I've always been afraid to go south because my father my mother came from the south. And when you were little and this is one of the things which it means to be a Negro things children to your consciousness when old folks are talking and think that you're asleep and what they're talking about of course is the trouble they've seen what they've been through and what they're also talking about. So you don't realize this until you're older. It's a trouble that you the child is going to see it once in the forefront of the negro parent's
mind is how to protect the child from. What he knows is coming from the day the child is called a nigger. And even more important from the day when the child is a very young man has begun to believe what the public says but he can go no higher. And the public said. When I went south. The plane landed in Atlanta I wandered around it the thing which struck me this was true absolutely true throughout my whole journey throughout that time and ever since. The thing that struck me was that it was terribly familiar. There was only one thing in the south which baffled me to talk. And that was simply the etiquette that is to say I knew what I was doing something wrong by the way I walked. And by the way I sounded I didn't sound like a southern negro. I didn't walk like a southern negro. And everyone in the town everyone in the South knew. And this is what it means about the Southern way of life. I mean
everyone knew. It was all we were all walking across. A room or carpeted room beneath which carpet there were 25 million live wires. One of these wires we stepped on it would blow the whole thing up. Everyone in that room called us out and you wear that one why it was. I didn't. That was the only difference though I didn't know how to say yes in the right way. If I could have said tall which was dubious. But the way negroes were treated that what people really thought of Negroes was not strange at all. The negroes both negro boys and girls talked to me was not strange at all the way white people talk to me those white people who did that say in a town like Charlotte which considers itself relatively speaking emancipated the military that were emancipated in the moment.
White people said race relations here excellent. We were never had any trouble. Whites and blacks going along perfectly. Of course they never saw each other. Except in very limited conditions that in kitchens. And under cars lack of a car. I didn't find a single negro though not one not even the negro boy it was he who agreed with this. Race relations there were fantastically horrible. But they were all under the carpet. No one talked about it therefore did not exist. Now I know there's talk about Birmingham. And appalled as they are by the violence there. What is really in their tone of voice when they talk they say to me it's some desire to be reassured that what is happening in Birmingham is really happening in South Africa.
And that it can never happen here. You had being at the moment San Francisco yesterday Seattle the day before that Denver here being New York you know being Chicago here being in fact the North. Where Negroes are accepted until they try to be accepted. Now this is very important. I said that your generation must begin to change this. What is important is to recognize this. That it has never been in the negro's mind and it has never been in fact. Celebrated negro problem even a negro problem or a regional problem. My problem for example the years of my life has never been the color of my skin and I don't care for the texture of my hair. One of the things that kept me awake till 4 o'clock in the morning. What on the other hand has been my trouble my burden has been what these attributes do to a people who see them. It doesn't keep me awake at 4:00 in the morning. But as far as I can tell he's a great many other people awake to talk about the
moment. If one believes I'm going to put this I want to make it as clearly as I can let's use a very common metaphor. When I was younger and in the days when. One began to suspect I mean the ones about 10 years old when one began to suspect what the future held for you because you were black. At that point you began to realize dimly but as a child I was very very powerfully. Why you're my best friend so much times probably I have a bad feeling. Why you always told me not to act like a nigga. At that point to begin it one began to suspect in fact that one was in trouble for the rest of one's life. When I began to hear I began to hear somehow for the first time.
That music that we call jazz. Now of course this music that we call jazz has been around in this country for a very long time. It dates from the auction block. And white Americans claim to love it. They love spiritual. They love a heavy jacks and they love to do a lot of rain. They Love They Love Bessie Smith. If anyone had really been interested in knowing in all these years what the story really was there it was all one had to do with listen when Bessie said my house fell down like and there'd been no mo. She was not talking just about a literal flood. She was talking about her her sorrow her pain and also ours. Because of what she had to see and you will because you can because how can I put this to you what the terms of her life would be with that she had given to understand and accept and even
rejoice in. That she had no place no no certain place. She was as we say in another song a pilgrim and a traveler. Now this sounds very romantic I think. When Negroes have had you known as country of all this time. Is that in order to survive to become a man one had to learn how to dance not like Fred Astaire. The way to my dance is on a tightrope. The way somebody dances in the boxing ring the way someone learns how to take a fall and how to get up when you take the fall. How in fact to become a man in spite of all those things which are determined to keep you from becoming a man. That's the negro experience too briefly and it's expressed every time you hear anything Ray Charles plays on the piano it is orange and you look into that face. I want to suggest this then that as he uses it as a Negro population has had to
use it. So now the country must. There are some uses which one can put the blues because the converse of the white population has always assumed that there was some way to escape acquiring a face like Ray Charles or a tone like that or star like that. Oh a triumph like that. There is still only one way to become a man or to become a woman. It is something that you do yourself. You take home a little kit. And you put yourself together as many times as you're broken apart. If we think of the Negro problem as being essentially a question of masters in this case the white population is the master and victims in which case the Negro is a victim. What makes a very great mistake. Because the white population can no longer act toward this problem toward this one tenth of a nation as though they were all missionaries. Negroes cannot be saved by people who refuse to save themselves. What we are fighting for all if one still believes in it is to achieve at last the American Revolution the American
Revolution. According to me I assumed that every man in this country had the right to become a man. I think your elders have betrayed you by teaching you that it is more important to become a success. More important to be saved. And then betrayed to another way. Our entire history betrays us in this way. If one is going to get an education one is going to become what is called an educated man or woman. If I am the teacher the only way I can help you get this education is to teach you how to think. Sinking is not a luxury thing is not something get embroidered in life thinking about a life. Finally in one way depends on what in order to learn how to think. One must be taught to think about everything that can be nothing but one cannot think about. There can be nothing that one cannot examine. They can mean nothing that one is afraid to obey or to change. It is what is called The Mask of insensibility.
In this country this is one of the things that it means to be an American. It is one of the great dangers of being an American in this country there's always been something not to think about and what that was was me sometimes called Sambo. Sometimes called Uncle Tom. Sometimes a rape is sometimes a saying. These are your inventions not mine. The effort the Republicans expended in not thinking about me and Reagan is gradually reality to a very sinister extent it shows I think on every level I live in the most private so the people ask you in pretty good faith. Until today in 1963 one year after the emancipation would you let your sister marry one. They still think
that the question. And they mean it and they don't realize. How to what. Trying of spiritual and moral emptiness and panic that your question can come. There's never been a question of who married whom. Besides which was 100 years too late to talk about with education I'm about I'm reduced by. If one can be so confused on this level. It means that one doesn't know what to tell one's child. And after all let me tell you that in spite of all the books written about how to raise your child and all the theories about it. Are going to raise your child in one way only. You are his model. If you don't know what you mean. If you are lying the child will know it. Children to listen to what you say it isn't what you don't say they want what you do. And they become. What you.
Their models. Make them become we'd all be and I think I know what my generation is at one point or another been in the position of crying in the middle of his life. When it should have been done to find a model in which to which some standard to prove. That you could be a man. Because in this country we no longer believe in them. Now finish this off and he would then you can have it handed me. What I'm saying in effect is that this is not. A white country. It is a myth that we can no longer afford. We are living in a time of revolution. It is our job not to try to prevent these revolutions but to use them. I don't for a minute ago about the weakening of our grasp the reality I had in my mind once the anti-Cuban fiasco and exactly what I mean to suggest by that is. That we have no right not to know. That the existence of the human presence and what that means whether human presence
lives and do it and how we must feel toward us. Now every Negro in this country has some sense of that so that for example it would be difficult for my morale to allow me. To go to Cuba to free Cuba when I cannot when I'm not premier. My point is that the country ought to know it. Americans must discover. That really they are not. The people from heaven they come from the shores of Europe. We have a long long past the human past everything that happened to the world all the follies over disasters all the heartbreak. That's the American law too. There is no way to escape it all one can do is use it.
That's right. To say yes to it and to use it to triumph over it. And then we could finally achieve an identity here and stop being as we are now trapped in effect between two oceans one going east and one going west. That's one of the reasons it's so important to be here because it's the only thing we can be sure of. And that means I'm going to be white and someone got to be black that's me. Now it's time to end this. Adolescent nightmare. I look to you to help us do it. Thank you.
- Producing Organization
- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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- Pacifica Radio Archives (North Hollywood, California)
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- James Baldwin gives a talk at the University of California at Berkeley on the fight for Black Civil rights since the Emancipation Proclamation.
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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
Identifier: 2249_D01 (Pacifica Radio Archives)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “100 years of freedom / James Baldwin,” 1963-05-17, Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-vm42r3ph61.
- MLA: “100 years of freedom / James Baldwin.” 1963-05-17. Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 10, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-vm42r3ph61>.
- APA: 100 years of freedom / 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-vm42r3ph61