James Baldwin


James Baldwin


Baldwin, James, 1924-1987--Interviews
African American leadership
Civil rights--Leadership
Civil rights demonstrations
African Americans--Race identity
African Americans--Civil rights
African Americans--Cultural assimilation
School integration
United States--Race relations
Blacks--Race identity
Civil rights movements
African Americans--Relations with Africans
Whites--Southern States
Southern States--Race relations


James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American writer and nonviolent civil rights activist. Baldwin was born into poverty in Harlem, New York. At a young age he spent a significant amount of time in libraries and realized his passion for writing. Baldwin became a preacher as a teenager and at the age of eighteen began working for the New Jersey railroad. After leaving the railroad Baldwin met Richard Wright in Greenwich Village and began freelance writing. In 1948 Baldwin left for France funded by a grant that Wright had helped him secure. During his travels through Europe, Baldwin wrote numerous works about American society including topics such the African American struggle, interracial relationships, and homosexuality. In the 1960s Baldwin returned to the United States to participate in the civil rights movement. During his trip the South, Baldwin wrote The Fire Next Time (1963). After the deaths of his friends Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, Baldwin returned to France to write If Beale Street Could Talk (1974). His works include Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni's Room (1956), Notes of a Native Son (1955), and The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985). In this interview Baldwin discusses whether or not the civil rights movement is a revolution and compares the civil rights movement with the Algerian revolution against France. Baldwin also explains his statement regarding the power and influence of a mob. He discusses the forces of "hope" and "hate" in the civil rights movement and proposes what he would consider a perfect world. Baldwin discusses African American identity, the difficulty many African American's may experience identifying with Africa, and describes his own experience in Africa. He also discusses differences he has observed in the North and South, especially between whites and African Americans. In addition, Baldwin discusses African American leadership, the effectiveness of civil rights demonstrations, and identifies what he considers the principal responsibility of African Americans in establishing equality.






Robert Penn Warren


James Baldwin

OHMS Object Text

5.1 Interview with James Baldwin, April 27, 1964 2003OH017 RPWCR 007 01:00:39 OHRPWCR Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project RPWCR001 Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries (Exhibit) Baldwin, James, 1924-1987--Interviews African American leadership Civil rights--Leadership Civil rights demonstrations African Americans--Race identity African Americans--Civil rights African Americans--Cultural assimilation School integration United States--Race relations Blacks--Race identity Civil rights movements African Americans--Relations with Africans Whites--Southern States Southern States--Race relations Responsibilities Oscar Handlin Mass movement March on Washington National Association for the Advancement of Colored People James Baldwin Robert Penn Warren 2003oh017_rpwcr007_baldwin_acc001.mp3 1:|12(9)|25(5)|51(8)|70(13)|97(2)|111(2)|132(2)|150(11)|163(13)|183(4)|203(9)|232(2)|255(2)|268(9)|300(5)|321(13)|344(12)|361(8)|385(11)|400(8)|435(1)|463(2)|479(3)|500(3)|527(3)|550(5)|563(9)|585(5)|607(1)|628(12)|645(14)|673(2)|693(4)|732(9)|751(7)|779(6)|808(6)|832(5)|858(8)|884(2)|907(7)|934(6)|955(9)|986(3)|1007(9)|1031(4)|1070(7)|1081(7)|1093(4)|1126(3)|1155(2)|1178(1)|1223(9)|1266(9)|1280(10)|1317(4)|1342(10)|1367(2)|1383(4)|1407(4) 0 https://oralhistory.uky.edu/spokedbaudio/2003oh017_rpwcr007_baldwin_acc001.mp3 Other audio 0 The civil rights movement as a revolution In what sense, uh, Mr. Baldwin, do you think the revolution is a revolution? Baldwin discusses what qualifies the civil rights movement as a revolution and compares it to the Algerian revolution against the French. He notes that African Americans do not want to take over the country, but want to live their lives as free citizens. He also talks about the hope/hate ratio. American economy ; Bitterness ; Churches ; Classes ; Country ; Dangerous ; Democratic Party ; Driving forces ; French ; Generations ; Genocide ; Hate ; History ; Hope ; Hope/hate ratio ; Ignorance ; Institutions ; Intolerable ; Liberation ; Liquidation ; Nationalistic revolutions ; Nations ; Oligarchy ; Principles ; Regime ; Sanctions ; Southern majority ; Southern mobs ; Systems ; Terror ; Victimizes ; Violence ; White middle class values ; World African Americans--Civil rights ; African Americans--Social conditions. ; Algerian Revolution, 1954-1962 ; Race relations ; Revolutions. ; Slavery--United States. 17 557 The concept of split culture and ethnic groups coming together Some people say, like Oscar Handlin and other historians and sociologists, that equality increases, rather than diminishes, the tendency of ethnic groups to, uh, pull together, to, uh, define their--themselves as a group. Baldwin gives his ideas on ethnic groups coming together and comments on W. E. B. Du Bois' concept of African Americans being faced with trying to choose between American culture or African culture. He also talks about his trip to Africa and how he compared himself to the people there. Acceptance ; African culture ; American white tradition ; Assumptions ; Bloody cross ; Bridge ; Castration ; Christians ; Cultural transmission ; Direction ; Discrimination ; Ethnic groups ; European invention ; Generations ; Image ; Personality ; Power ; Psyche ; Puritan ; Rejection ; Richard Wright ; Slaves ; Suffer ; Tendency ; Values ; W. E. B. Du Bois ; Western values Africa. ; African Americans--Race identity. ; African Americans--Social conditions. ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Equality. 17 1108 The romanticization of the civil rights movement I've heard, uh, young--young-ish--negroes from the North who've gone to Mississippi or Alabama to work in voter registration and those such things... Baldwin talks about the romanticization of civil rights workers, leaders, and their efforts. American Indians ; Direct ; Expression ; Feeling ; Heroic ; Hope ; Human personality ; Impulse ; Manhood ; Medger Evers ; Reality ; Reservations ; Romanticization ; Rustic ; Simple man ; Society ; Voter registration ; White hunter ; White people ; Workers African Americans--Civil rights ; African Americans--Social conditions ; Civil rights workers 17 1314 White and black sharecroppers in the South --be called or thought of as more or less corresponding white types. Baldwin talks about the major differences between white and black sharecroppers in the South. African American sharecroppers ; Authority ; Black Southern sharecroppers ; Childhood ; Democratic Party ; Experience ; Grim ; Growth ; Labor ; Pain ; Possibility ; Reconstruction ; Southern poor whites ; Understanding ; White Southern sharecroppers ; Workers ; Youth African Americans--Economic conditions. ; Race relations ; Sharecropping 17 1532 Civil rights leadership coming together Let's switch for a moment to the matter of, uh, the general pattern of leadership. Baldwin discusses how the leaders within black civil rights organizations have joined together to reach their goals. [The tape skips and much of the discussion is lost.] Centralization ; Mass movements ; Tactics ; White power structure African American leadership ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Power (Social sciences) 17 1651 Labor laws Well, we have--that's true, but taking things as of now... Baldwin talks about the actions of African Americans in response to labor laws and opportunities. [Tape skips and blanks out much of the conversation.] Impatience ; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) ; Time African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc. ; Labor. 17 1743 Leadership and power Let's see, where were we? Baldwin tries to define the development of leadership for the old and new leaders of the civil rights movement. A. Philip Randolph ; Danger ; Good will ; March on Washington Movement ; Opportunistic ; Turning points African American leadership ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Power (Social sciences) 17 1950 Legitimate and illegitimate demonstrations Can you distinguish, however, between what you might call legitimate and illegitimate, uh, demonstration? Baldwin and Warren discuss the reasons for demonstrations, as well as what their purpose is. Bloodshed ; Consequences ; Gains ; illegitimate demonstrations ; Irresponsible ; Legitimate demonstrations ; March on Washington ; Policy ; Random protests ; School boycotts ; Stall-ins African Americans--Social conditions. ; Civil rights demonstrations ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Protest movements. 17 2170 The potential for the demise of civil rights organizations Do you see the, uh--(Baldwin coughs)--the pattern building up that, uh, Congressman, uh, Powell said to me was true the other day... Baldwin talks about the necessary changes that need to be made within civil rights organizations. Adam Clayton Powell ; Arguments ; Radical changes ; Responsibility ; Simplistic Civil rights movements--United States ; Leadership ; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 17 2285 Effectiveness of civil rights leaders in the South vs. the North Do you follow the line of thought that, that Mrs. Dr. Kenneth Clark, uh, takes? Baldwin and Warren debate the ability of black leaders to reach particular groups of African Americans. Despair ; Difficult ; Dr. Kenneth Clark ; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ; Influences ; Middle class African American families ; Civil rights demonstrations ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Religion 17 2400 School busing Let's take some specific, uh, episode, like the school busing program in Harlem. Baldwin discusses the effects of school busing and forced integration, as well as the measures that need to be taken to solve the root problem of the overall conflict. Banks ; Confrontation ; Criteria ; Dr. Kenneth Clark ; Failures ; Half measures ; Hope ; Neighborhoods ; Real estate boards ; Reverend Milton Galamison ; Schools ; Symbols ; Useless African Americans--Education. ; African Americans--Social conditions. ; Busing for school integration ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Integration ; New York (N.Y.) ; Segregation in education. 17 2793 Race balance vs. justice and equality I have a quotation here from Oscar Handlin's new book. Baldwin attempts to explain the present state of civil rights goals and the problem of the &quot ; separate, but equal&quot ; doctrine. &quot ; Separate, but equal&quot ; ; A Bell in the Night (Book) ; Assumption ; Authority ; Dangerous ; Despair ; Doctrines ; Irving Howe ; Justice ; Objective ; Oscar Handlin ; Racial balance ; Revolutions ; Richard Wright ; Separatists ; Supreme Court of the United States African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc. ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Integration ; Segregation 17 3378 Responsibility of African Americans What is--just take one question. Baldwin attempts to answer the question of what responsibilities African Americans have. He also briefly talks about his books and the people reading them. Achievements ; Audience ; Delinquency ; Elders ; Existence ; Helpless ; Morale ; Responsibility African Americans--Social conditions. ; Civil rights demonstrations ; Civil rights movements--United States ; Identity (Philosophical concept) 17 James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an American writer and nonviolent civil rights activist. Baldwin was born into poverty in Harlem, New York. At a young age he spent a significant amount of time in libraries and realized his passion for writing. Baldwin became a preacher as a teenager and at the age of eighteen began working for the New Jersey railroad. After leaving the railroad Baldwin met Richard Wright in Greenwich Village and began freelance writing. In 1948 Baldwin left for France funded by a grant that Wright had helped him secure. During his travels through Europe, Baldwin wrote numerous works about American society including topics such the African American struggle, interracial relationships, and homosexuality. In the 1960s Baldwin returned to the United States to participate in the civil rights movement. During his trip the South, Baldwin wrote The Fire Next Time (1963). After the deaths of his friends Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, Baldwin returned to France to write If Beale Street Could Talk (1974). His works include Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Giovanni's Room (1956), Notes of a Native Son (1955), and The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985). In this interview Baldwin discusses whether or not the civil rights movement is a revolution and compares the civil rights movement with the Algerian revolution against France. Baldwin also explains his statement regarding the power and influence of a mob. He discusses the forces of &quot ; hope&quot ; and &quot ; hate&quot ; in the civil rights movement and proposes what he would consider a perfect world. Baldwin discusses African American identity, the difficulty many African American's may experience identifying with Africa, and describes his own experience in Africa. He also discusses differences he has observed in the North and South, especially between whites and African Americans. In addition, Baldwin discusses African American leadership, the effectiveness of civil rights demonstrations, and identifies what he considers the principal responsibility of African Americans in establishing equality. WARREN: In what sense, uh, Mr. Baldwin, do you think the revolution is a revolution? How would you allude to, uh, previous concepts of revolution? BALDWIN: Well that&#039 ; s a tough one to answer cause I&#039 ; m not, not always sure that the word revolution is, is the right word. I, I myself use it because I don&#039 ; t know of any other. It&#039 ; s not in my mind anyway, um, like, it&#039 ; s not as simple as a revolution of one class against another for example. It is not as clear-cut let us say as the Algerian revolution against the French. It is a very peculiar revolution because it has to, in order to succeed at all, it has to have as its aim the, uh, reestablishment of, of the union. And a great, a radical shift in the, um, in American mores, in American--in the American way of life, you see, not only is it applying to the negro obviously but it applies to every citizen in the country. This is, um, a very tall order and, um, and desperately dangerous but, but inevitable in my, in my view because, um, of the nature of our history, the nature of Amer-, of the American negro&#039 ; s relationship to the rest of the country of all these generations and the attitudes the country&#039 ; s had toward him which is simply now, always was but now has become overtly and, um, and concretely intolerable. WARREN: May I interrupt here for one moment? You say different from a revolution like the Algerian which means a liquidation of a class of a-, of another country&#039 ; s control-- BALDWIN: --well now-- WARREN: --of a, a regime-- BALDWIN: --of a regime. WARREN: And also, not, not the liquidation of a class either, it&#039 ; s something else that&#039 ; s involved. BALDWIN: No. No. Because the Algerians and the French have very great differences part--partly simply because the Algerians had a country called Algeria which happened to be ruled by France and the aim of the revolution there would have had to be to, to break the power of the French. WARREN: This old type of nationalistic revolution then. BALDWIN: Yes. That&#039 ; s right. But this is not, it doesn&#039 ; t apply here at all. Because this is indecent principle one nation, it&#039 ; s Americans battling to get rid of an invader or to, um, or to even destroy a class but, um, to liberate themselves and their children from, um, from what precisely? From the, from the economic, economic and social sanctions imposed on them traditionally because they were slaves here. Now there&#039 ; s some concrete things involved in this I think. Now, I think that, um, for example, if Washington had the energy to move to break the power of people like Senator Eastland and Senator Russell so the negroes began to vote in the South we would have made a large step forward. If negroes could vote in this city, we&#039 ; d have a different state. If we could get a different state in Mississippi, you could begin to have a different country. I mean it&#039 ; s not as mystical or as, um, or as fuzzy as people make it, make it seem. Um, it seems to me that the South is ruled very largely still by an oligarchy, which rules for its own benefit, and not only, not only oppresses negroes and murders them but really imprisons and victimizes the bulk of the white population. WARREN: You said once in print that the Southern mob does not represent the will of the Southern majority. BALDWIN: Well I still feel that. I think that-- WARREN: --how would you discuss that? BALDWIN: Well its mobs that fill the street, it seems to me, unless ones, unless ones prepared to say that the South is populated entirely by monsters, which I&#039 ; m not. Those mobs that fill the street are a reflection I think of the terror that all that everybody feels at least on the, on the lowest level. And those mobs that fill the street have been, uh, used by the American economy for generations to keep the negro in its place. In fact, they have done the Americans, North and South by the way, dirty work for him. And they&#039 ; ve always been encouraged to do it. They--no one has ever even given him any hint that it was wrong and of course they are now completely bewildered. And, and, um. WARREN: The mob? BALDWIN: The mob, yes. And can only react in one way, which is, which is through violence and the same way that, that an Alabama sheriff facing a negro student knows he&#039 ; s in danger, doesn&#039 ; t know what the danger is and all, all he can do is beat him over the head or cattle prod him, he doesn&#039 ; t know what else to do-- WARREN: --may I interrupt and make one test here to make sure we&#039 ; re-- [Pause in recording.] WARREN: All revolutions of the ordinary historical type have depended on say the driving force of hope and the driving force of hate. They&#039 ; re going somewhere and they are mobilizing, they&#039 ; re rattling against something I suppose you could put it this way. Other things may be involved but those things. Now, when this is directed against a regime to be liquidated, it&#039 ; s one thing ; when it&#039 ; s inside of a system, which must be reordered but not destroyed, maybe vastly reordered. BALDWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: Then the hope hate ratio might change. I think how the hate is accommodated in a case like that, this kind of a, quote, &quot ; revolution.&quot ; BALDWIN: Well the American negro has had to accommodate a vast amount of hatred for-- since he&#039 ; s been here. And, um, that was a terrible school to go through. I think though that, um, so far and in this context operates to, um, operates to control what hatred, what such hatred as there is. I don&#039 ; t--I myself am accused of hating all white people and saying that all negroes do. I myself don&#039 ; t feel that so much as I feel a bitterness and a-- [Tape interruption.] BALDWIN: --um, one&#039 ; s been too involved to hate anybody whom you&#039 ; ve raised. You can despise him. You know, you can, uh, you have a great complex of feelings about them and you may, you may even have given moments when you want to kill them. But it wouldn&#039 ; t come under the heading for me of the hatred the Algerians felt for the French, which is, obviously on one level certainly much, much less complicated to a Frenchman is simply a Frenchman. But here it&#039 ; s your brothers and your sisters, whether or not they know that they are your brothers and your sisters. And that complicates it. It complicates it so much that I can&#039 ; t possibly myself quite see my way through this. Um, as for the hope, that is fuzzy too. Hope for what? You know the best people involved in this revolution certainly don&#039 ; t hope to become what most, what the bulk of Americans have become. So the hope again then has to be to create a new nation under intolerable circumstances and in very little time, and against the resistance of most of the country. WARREN: You mean the hope is not to simply move into, uh, white middle class values. Is that it? BALDWIN: Well even if that were the hope, it isn&#039 ; t as a matter of fact, but even if that were the hope, it would not be possible. It is simply not possible for the church for example to accept me into it without becoming a different institution. I&#039 ; d have to be deluded not to realize that. And the church of course realizes it which is why, you know, which is why it isn&#039 ; t about to change. What applies to the church applies to politics, applies to every level of the national life. In order to accommodate me, in order to, to overcome so many centuries of, of cruelty and bad faith and genocide and fear, simple fear, all the, all the American institutions and all the American values public and private will have to change. The Democratic Party will have to become a different party for example. WARREN: How do you envisage the result of a, this movement if successful? What kind of a world do you envisage out of it (??)? BALDWIN: Hm. Well, I envisage a world, which is almost impossible to imagine in--in this country. But still a world in which ultimately race would count for nothing. In which Americans simply, not so simply, would grow up enough to recognize that, um, I don&#039 ; t threaten them. Part of the problem here has nothing to do with race at all, it has to do with ignorance and it has to do with the culture (??) of youth. WARREN: Undoubtedly, that&#039 ; s true. Maybe hold that though for a moment-- BALDWIN: --um-hm-- WARREN: --it&#039 ; s one of the points where other things intersect this. BALDWIN: Yes. WARREN: Some people say, like Oscar Handlin and other historians and sociologists, that equality increases rather than diminishes the tendency of ethnic groups to, uh, pull together, to, uh, to find their--themselves as a group. That once the pressure of, of, uh, discrimination has been lessened or removed, history so far in America has been for the ethnic groups to coalesce rather than to dissolve. BALDWIN: Well I&#039 ; m not sure I agree with that and in any case in very well, in very badly placed answer since, um, the American negro has not experienced that particular transformation, you know, and, and the ethnic group in this context can only really refer to the American negro because it cannot-- WARREN: --in this particular case-- BALDWIN: --it can&#039 ; t, it can&#039 ; t really apply to the Irish and not really applying it to the Jew. It, uh, we are talking about the low man on the American totem pole. The man on whose labor, this country, whose free labor this country was built. WARREN: And what about this though and this next connection (??). The question lets speculate about for a moment. In the last few years if we can believe that sales of bleaching creams and such things and the avowed sentiments of many negroes, there is a movement toward an acceptance of and a pride in negro identity-- BALDWIN: --um-hm-- WARREN: --as opposed to an older tendency to, uh, shift from that center. Now, either an actual passing or by changing, uh, personality or appearance. This would seem to indicate something, wouldn&#039 ; t it? BALDWIN: Yeah. What I, what I think it indicates is simply that um, for the first time in, in American negro history or in American history the American black man has not been at the mercy of the American white man&#039 ; s image of him and this is because of Africa. WARREN: Africa-- [Tape interruption.] BALDWIN: --America because it has not been reached. WARREN: It clearly has not been reached but the question of a tendency or a will is more defined here. BALDWIN: I think it, I really think it comes out of the fact that for the first time in the memory of anybody living there are African States in Africa, that the worst--the West was forced to deal with Africans on a level of power. And that the image of, you know, the shiftless darky and the, uh--all that jazz that you live so long was shattered and, uh, and kids then, people had another image to turn to, which released them. It&#039 ; s still by the way you know after all, um, very romantic for an American negro to think of himself as an African. But it&#039 ; s, um, it&#039 ; s a necessary, it&#039 ; s a necessary step in his--in the, in the recreation of his moral. WARREN: In the matter of discussed a while ago by DuBois and many other people since of the possible split in the psyche of the American negro, and you have written something, something about it along this line. The tendency to identify with the African culture or African mystique or the mystique noir or to other, or, even the American negro culture as opposed to American white culture. BALDWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: The tendency to pull in that direction as opposed to the tendency to pull over and accept the, uh, Western European American white tradition as another pull. BALWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: Using it against each other, uh, can be anyway for some people they are--some people profess, uh, they are greatly troubled by this. Do you feel this (??) is real for, for yourself or for your observation? BALDWIN: Well, how do I, how do I answer that? It, um--in my own case, for whatever, for whatever--you know, for whatever that means, it was very hard for me to accept Western European values because they didn&#039 ; t accept me. It was, um, any negro born in this country spends a great deal of time trying to be accepted, trying to find a way to operate within the culture and to, not to be made to suffer so much by it, but nothing you do works. No matter how many showers you take, no matter, no matter what you do. These western values simply do--simply absolutely resist and reject you. So that inevitably at some point, you know, you turn away from them or you re-examine them. I think first you turn away and then perhaps you re-examine them. Because it is something that slaves knew and the masters haven&#039 ; t found it out yet but the slaves who, you know, who adopted that, that bloody cross did know one thing, they knew the masters could not--those masters could not be Christians because Christians couldn&#039 ; t have treated them that way. You know what I mean? WARREN: Yeah. BALDWIN: This, this rejection has been at the very heart of the, you know, of the American negro Psyche from the beginning. WARREN: Let&#039 ; s take the African side of it. You have written on that along the way, and covering that conference in Paris-- BALDWIN: --right. Yeah. Yeah-- WARREN: --your piece about that. Shall I hold that while you light? BALDWIN: Yes, all right. Thank you. WARREN: Uh, that would imply a difficulty which you have written there would imply a difficulty too in identifying, uh, with, uh, Africa-- [Tape interruption.] BALDWIN: --what&#039 ; s got to be honest about that it&#039 ; s almost, it&#039 ; s not impossible but at that, at that point certainly in my life and I think that, I think for many people and until now it&#039 ; s, it&#039 ; s hard because it&#039 ; s all been, it&#039 ; s all been buried. It&#039 ; s hard for that matter for Africans who only, who only now are beginning to, um, emerge from the long colonial night. So there&#039 ; s a sense in which you can say that Afri-- that the very word African, the very term is a European invention. I&#039 ; m not all convinced that the people in the villages outside of the cities think of themselves as Africans, you know, and after all it wasn&#039 ; t, it wasn&#039 ; t very long ago the Italians didn&#039 ; t think of themselves as, as Italians. WARREN: It&#039 ; s not the horizon in an African village. It&#039 ; s not the horizon-- BALDWIN: Not yet. You know, it--it, I should think it would take, you know, a couple of generations. And in the case of an American negro, Africa, you know, which, which part of Africa? Which Africa would you be thinking of? Are you thinking of Senegal or are you thinking of St. Louis? Are you thinking of, uh, middle--of Freetown? And if you are thinking of any of these, of any of these places what do you know about them? And what, what is there that you can use? What is there that you can contribute to? These are very grave questions. I don&#039 ; t think that there is, you know, that there is, uh, the void is absolute or that nothing, that no bridge can be, can be made. But I think it&#039 ; s, we&#039 ; ve been away from Africa for four hundred years and no power in the heaven will allow me to find my way back. I can go back and maybe even function there but that will have to be on terms, which have yet to be worked out. WARREN: Richard Wright didn&#039 ; t find it very happy, did he? BALDWIN: No, not at all. Not at all. I think Richard went there with the wrong set of assumptions. But then, there&#039 ; s, there&#039 ; s no way not to go there with the wrong set of assumptions. I did too in a way. You know, not Richard&#039 ; s assumptions but--I didn&#039 ; t know-- WARREN: --what--excuse me. BALDWIN: Go on. No, I just didn&#039 ; t know what I would find. And what I found surprised me and I, I must say sort of gladdened me. But I still would not be able to tell you exactly what it was. And still less would be able to tell you what my, what my own relationship to it is. WARREN: Do you remember what your assumptions were? BALDWIN: No I--I guess I&#039 ; ve blocked it out. I remember before I went I did my best to, to discard whatever assumptions I might have had. Of course, you never succeed in doing that, you know. I, I did realize but I had realized it before, you know, that I was in some way very European because that was the way I had been in any, that&#039 ; s what I&#039 ; d been stained by, you know, and that there were, and that also I was a puritan in the sense that, um, in a very serious sense. In the sense that Africans are not, in the sense of--to being distrustful of the flesh and the--and the celebration and, and of being afflicted with a totally western kind of self-consciousness which I will always have. I realize too that the reality of castration had been utmost in my mind as it has been in the minds of almost any American negro male, uh, since you realize--from the time I realized I was a male and this has done something to my psyche no matter how I adjusted myself to it or failed to adjust myself to it, it had been a reality for me in a way that it had not been as far as I could tell for them. There were great many differences in, but there were also great echoes, which were more troubling and I didn&#039 ; t--because I couldn&#039 ; t, I found those harder to read. WARREN: You think the echoes came from actual cultural transmission or in some other way? BALDWIN: That is-- WARREN: --or do you know? BALDWIN: That is a blank. WARREN: Or, could anyone know? BALDWIN: I just don&#039 ; t--couldn&#039 ; t answer that. I saw girls on the streets of Freetown and they had groceries on their heads and their babies on their backs and they looked just like girls and walked just like girls I knew on (??) Avenue. But I don&#039 ; t--I&#039 ; m not capable of telling you what this means. But maybe I&#039 ; ll find out one day, I&#039 ; m going back. WARREN: I&#039 ; ve heard, um, young, youngish negroes from the North who&#039 ; ve gone to Mississippi or Alabama to work in voter registration-- BALDWIN: --um-hm-- WARREN: --or such things, say that the salvation is in meeting the purity of expression, the purity of feeling in some poor half literate or cotton picker, you see, who has, uh, uh, come awake to his manhood. BALDWIN: Oh, I would, I would tend to agree with that. WARREN: This is, this is the source of real, of the real revelation. BALDWIN: I think, I would, I would really agree with that. I&#039 ; ve seen in my own, you know, myself some extraordinary people coming just, just coming out of some enormous darkness and there is something, there is something indescribably moving and direct and, um, heroic about those people. And that&#039 ; s where the hope in my mind lies, you know, much more than in, um, I&#039 ; d say someone like me who was, you know, much more, as it were corrupted by the psychotic society in which we live. WARREN: This impulse that you have and these people who we are speaking of have is a very common one in many different circumstances though, isn&#039 ; t it? BALDWIN: Yes, I know. WARREN: You will find many white people, uh, and I use the word romanticized now without prejudice-- BALDWIN: --um-hm. I know what you, I know what you mean-- WARREN: --about some simpler form of life. BALDWIN: Actually, I don&#039 ; t think it&#039 ; s-- WARREN: --the white hunter you see in the-in the far west-- BALDWIN: --yeah-- WARREN: --or, or the American Indian or even turns toward the negro-- BALDWIN: --um-hm-- WARREN: --in that same romantic way. BALDWIN: Or the worker. WARREN: Or the worker. This is an impulse of many people who feel it in a complication or feel--or live in a complicated world, which they don&#039 ; t quite accept, don&#039 ; t want to accept turn to some simpler form of reality. BALDWIN: I&#039 ; m not so sure it&#039 ; s simpler though. That&#039 ; s my real reservation about it. I&#039 ; m not convinced that some of those old ladies and old men I talk to down there are, are-- I&#039 ; m sure--I know they aren&#039 ; t simple. They are far from simple. And what the emotional and psychological makeup is which has allowed them to endure so long is something of a mystery to me. They are no more simple for example than Medgar Evers was simple. You know, he was, um-- WARREN: --well he was apparently (??) very certainly a different cut from you know the-- BALDWIN: -- (??) but Medgar, you know, there was something very rustic about him, and um, and direct but obviously he was far from a simple man. I think that is has something to do with, you know, what one takes, I don&#039 ; t know, you know, there&#039 ; s something to do with what one thinks the nature of reality is. And, and especially in this country now. It&#039 ; s, um, it&#039 ; s very hard to read the riddle of the human personality because we&#039 ; ve had so little respect for it. And I think, I think this complicates all our endeavors and all our relationships. But I, I don&#039 ; t see--my, my own father who was certainly something like those people was very far from being a simple man. It was simply that I think that the nature of his complexity and the nature of the complexity of those field workers in the deep South-- [Tape interruption.] WARREN: --called or thought of as more or less corresponding white types. BALDWIN: Um. Yes, you might. Now there I am under a shaky ground. I don&#039 ; t, I&#039 ; m not equipped to say yes or no. But I would-- WARREN: --some of, some of the Southern--Southern white sharecroppers. BALDWIN: Except that I have the feeling that the difference between the Southern white sharecropper and a black one, speaking in terms of, now to speak in, this is a generality obviously, but still I suspect that the differences in the nature of their relationship to their own pain. And I think that the white Southern sharecropper in the general way in any case, would have a much harder time using his pain, using his sorrow, putting himself in touch with it and using it to survive than a black one. And there&#039 ; s a level of melancholy, and a level, even tragic in negro experience, which is simply denied in white experience. I think this makes a very great difference, a difference in authority, a difference in growth, a difference in possibility. The one that is not true of a negro in this, in this context in anyway, he is not forbidden as all white Southerners are, to assess his own beginnings. He may find it for one reason or another impossible or dangerous or fatal to do so. But a white Southerner I think, suffers from the fact that his childhood, his early youth, you know, when, when his relationship to black people is very different than it becomes later is sealed off from him and he can never go back, he can never dig it up on pain of destruction nearly. And I think this creates his torment and his, and his paralysis. WARREN: Do you see any chance of, um, an understanding between say the Southern poor white and the poor Southern negro? [Tape interruption.] BALDWIN: depression have done nothing, have done nothing to, um, to create that, nothing to defeat that is the bargain struck by the reconstruction I suppose, you know. Which was used-- poor white used-- [Tape interruption.] BALDWIN: --and I don&#039 ; t know, I don&#039 ; t know enough about that era to discuss it in any detail but I know--I know to what you are referring. But my point in any case is that they didn&#039 ; t. And now the situation is more grim than ever. It would seem to me, to go back to what I said earlier, that part of the answer to that problem that question would really be to begin to break the power of a few men in the democratic party. WARREN: Some negroes in Mississippi and Alabama hold out hope for this, for the understanding, for the rapprochement-- BALDWIN: --well, I think-- WARREN: --between (??) the Southern poor whites, the sharecropper type, the, um, laborer and--and the poor negro. BALDWIN: Well I don&#039 ; t see much hope for it as things are now because in the first place the labor situation is--is the labor situation is too complex and too shaky. The white--all--all workers in this country are in terrible trouble. WARREN: Not enough jobs to go around. BALDWIN: Not enough jobs, that&#039 ; s right. And they are all vanishing (??) jobs that there are. And this does not make for good relations between, between workers as we all know. I really--I still--I still insist on, you know, the fact that it really seems to me that if Mississippi could be release---could be released from Senator Eastland&#039 ; s grip, clutches then there might be much more hope for the poor white. Who in effect is kept in prison by, by men like him. WARREN: Let&#039 ; s switch for a moment to a matter of, of the general kind of leadership in the negro revolution or whatever we settle on. BALDWIN: Yeah. WARREN: Almost always, I suppose always in successful movements, mass movements in history you find a tendency toward greater and greater centralization of leadership. BALDWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: The final demand, of the bureau behind him but demand. Is it a tendency in that direction now among negroes do you think? Do you see, do you see a centralization, this process going on? BALDWIN: No, I see a shaking down of something but I don&#039 ; t see anything yet resembling what we can call a centralization, not according to me. Part of the problem is that, um, the tactics of the old leadership have had to rely very heavily, you know, on the, um, having defined very heavily by the, um, by the white power structure. Put it another way the, um, college president of, let&#039 ; s say forty years ago had to deal with heads, had to deal with the state governor and with the powers that be in a very different way than now because the, the state is no longer able to do what it was able, since the Supreme Court decision, let me put it this way, the college president does not have to go to, to the state to get a college dormitory because the states are building college dormitories as fast as they can to keep negroes out of white schools. Now that changes, that alone changes, you know, the tactics and changes the, um, changes the whole picture. Furthermore there have always been in this country two negro leaders, one was--one you called a leader and one was mine, you know, the real one who was always found-- [Tape interruption.] WARREN: Well, we have, that&#039 ; s true. But taking things as of now, may I try to reinterpret what you said? And if I&#039 ; m wrong, um, stop me and correct me. NAACP, uh, legal techniques defy (??) the old system. BALDWIN: Yes, to a very large extent they have to be. WARREN: Yes. Well, as legal they were establishing an illegal, uh, reference. Wouldn&#039 ; t they have had to work in terms of law-- BALDWIN: --well, there&#039 ; s a limit even to that you see because some of the laws to which you have to work--had to work were unjust and--and unworkable. WARREN: Well, their effort was to change this. BALDWIN: I know but the point is, and indeed (??) I&#039 ; m not in any sense trying to condemn that but still it was very complex and, um, and this enemy there was time. You know, time does pass and a man, a man has only one life to live. And it was inevitable that these techniques, if they were not, you know, swiftly successful and they couldn&#039 ; t be, would have to fail before, you know, before the weight of human impatience. Which no one after all, no one possibly can--no one possibly can condemn. And what is happening now it seems to me is that for the first time in the history of this struggle the poor negro has hit the streets really. And it has changed the nature of the struggle completely and, and according-- [Tape 1 ends, tape 2 begins.] WARREN: Let&#039 ; s see, where were we? On the question of leadership and, uh, the struggle for power--. BALDWIN: I don&#039 ; t know if it&#039 ; s--I don&#039 ; t know if it&#039 ; s only a struggle of power. I mean there are some figures-- WARREN: --not merely. BALDWIN: Not merely, no. There are some figures in the movement or on the periphery who press me as being opportunistic, you know. But, um, I think the problem, I think the problem is more complex than that. I think it&#039 ; s involved with the pressure of being brought to bear on, on everybody by the people in the streets especially by the poor and by the young so that one is always in a position of having to assess very carefully ones, ones tactics, ones moves in terms of the, of the popular desire because ones got to avoid yet another danger, which is this, that If the people feel betrayed you&#039 ; ve lowered their moral and then nothing, and then you&#039 ; ve opened the door on the holocaust. So there is some things that people have agreed to--the march on Washington is a very good example. It was not the most popular thing, you know, dreamed up. It was not dreamed up by the leaders as far as I know at all. It was, um, it was brought off because nobody could call it off. Nobody dared to call it off. It seemed to be guaranteeing, you know, a series of race riots. WARREN: How much was the idea based on the old &quot ; March on Washington Movement&quot ; of, uh, A. Philip Randolph&#039 ; s? BALDWIN: Of A. Philip Randolph&#039 ; s? Very heavily I think. You know, I was not in on the, you know, I was not--I was hardly ever backstage on it so I--but I, but I think it springs from that, that event or that board of event, boarded event in the--in the forties. And it was a very significant day, in that was, we say contained, and, but it was also a turning point. I don&#039 ; t think that, I didn&#039 ; t think that, I thought that and I, I still think that we will never get 250,000 people to come to Washington again because, um, to petition (??) grievances. WARREN: How do you explain that? BALDWIN: Well, I think that the negro in American has reached a point of despair and disaffection, you know, and that people now talk about, you know, certain techniques, techniques being used that&#039 ; s destroying the good will of white people but nobody, nobody gives a damn any, any longer about the good will of people whose good will has never been, has never done anything to help you or to save you. Their ill will can hardly do, can hardly do more harm than their good will is, than their good will has. And this is a very significant, this is a very significant, um, despair. WARREN: Yet, you want to avoid the holocaust? BALDWIN: Oh, indeed. We want to avoid the holocaust, but you see there that does not really, that&#039 ; s not simply in the hands of negro leaders. That&#039 ; s in the hands of the entire, that&#039 ; s in the hands of the, of the entire country. WARREN: It&#039 ; s not a one-way ticket. BALDWIN: It&#039 ; s not a one-way ticket at all. WARREN: No. BALDWIN: If you have people up, up there filibustering about whether or not you are human then obviously you are going to have a, a reaction in the streets. WARREN: Clearly. BALDWIN: You know. And Farmer and King and all those people are doing everything they can, but they cannot do it alone. It is simply not possible. To avoid, to avoid the holocaust one is going to have to have some help. And very little help forthcoming. WARREN: Do you distinguish, however, between what you might call legitimate and illegitimate demonstration? BALDWIN: Well, it&#039 ; s becoming increasingly harder to distinguish between them, you know, I&#039 ; m not--well, is a, is a demonstration in front of the Florida Pavilion at the World&#039 ; s Fair legitimate or illegitimate? It depends on the point of view ; I think it&#039 ; s legitimate, you know. WARREN: Well, let&#039 ; s say that I think so too as I do. We can distinguish between a school boycott or a March on Washington on one side-- BALDWIN: --yeah, yeah-- WARREN: --or say an orderly demonstration inside the fairgrounds and a stall-in, there&#039 ; s some distinction. BALDWIN: (??) yes, there is. There is some distinction. This distinction would have to be I think in terms of the--of the cloudier purpose and the likelihood of achieving any, um, any um, one dare, one dare not say concrete gains, there have been so few. But in terms of pinpointing a specific, dramatizing a specific, specific thing-- WARREN: --that is they-- BALDWIN: --a specific issue. WARREN: Whether there&#039 ; s a specific target or a specific issue-- BALDWIN: --that&#039 ; s right--yes, yes-- WARREN: --then it is, uh, (??) but when it is a random protest-- BALDWIN: --well, then I think it can do you vastly more harm than good-- WARREN: --a random protest, uh, which may carry grievous social consequences. BALDWIN: Yeah, well, of course, this entire revolution is going to carry grievous social consequences. But-- WARREN: --for somebody, yes, that&#039 ; s always true. BALDWIN: Yeah. WARREN: A change is a, is a consequences. BALDWIN: Yeah. WARREN: What the question of the evidence what dodging down the street with a dying man is one thing as opposed to the consequences of somebody having to, uh, re-, uh, refurbish a tenement. BALDWIN: Yeah. Yeah.. Uh, that is one of those--that&#039 ; s an area in which one simply has to play it literally by ear, you know. Uh, a school boycott depends very much on where the school is. You know, it depends on a whole complex of issues, and, of course, a school boycott is designed as I see it, to dramatize the situation of the schools, which is really not a situation in the schools but a situation in the cities, you know. It&#039 ; s not only the school boards which are at fault, though they are, but it is also the structure of our cities which has created--which has created this dilemma. And that&#039 ; s why rent strikes, the same thing, you know, on the face of when it&#039 ; s their right not to pay the rent. On the other hand, the landlord has no right to keep you, to keep you locked in the tenement and, you know, and to penalize you in this way. And the only way to dramatize it is to, is to stop paying the rent. WARREN: What about a policy deliberately directed at getting a little bloodshed for the papers? BALDWIN: I, I haven&#039 ; t really heard of this. WARREN: Well I, I have heard of only one case. It&#039 ; s a (??) sitting--a man has sat in such a meeting told me and the name of the person (??) remember we&#039 ; ve got to get a few heads broken here or we&#039 ; re going to lose out. BALDWIN: I never--it sounds very unrealistic to me since in the first place the power of one getting heads broken doesn&#039 ; t seem to me to be a problem at all. On the contrary. WARREN: some places (??). BALDWIN: I don&#039 ; t, I don&#039 ; t understand the nature of that--well, it&#039 ; s, you know, obviously madly and criminally irresponsible. But, um, I haven&#039 ; t myself come across that seriously suggested as a tactic yet. WARREN: I have. BALDWIN: You have? WARREN: Just one case documented. At least I take, I take the word of the man (??)-- BALDWIN: --no, I, I believe you. I believe you. It just seems insane to me, but since, I--I repeat, it&#039 ; s just never been a problem to get your head broken. WARREN: Yes, you don&#039 ; t have to-- BALDWIN: --no, you don&#039 ; t, you don&#039 ; t-- WARREN: --arrange it. (laughs) BALDWIN: You don&#039 ; t got to arrange that. (laughs) WARREN: Do you see the, uh, pattern building up that Congressman Powell said to me was true the other day that the old organization is on the way out-- BALDWIN: --well, the old organization is-- WARREN: --that they don&#039 ; t really count. BALDWIN: Well, I&#039 ; m not so sure, I&#039 ; m not so sure they don&#039 ; t really count. But they are certainly either on their way out or, you know, in the process of radical changes and that&#039 ; s, this would, this would, you wouldn&#039 ; t even have to be critical of them to realize this because there&#039 ; s certain things that they will simply have to do if they are going to remain in positions of responsibility or, or power, which they never had to do before. The situation dictates it. So, and those that cannot do that are, are on the way out, yes. WARREN: You&#039 ; ll find an argument now and then such as this one I heard from Dr. Aaron Henry in Mississippi that the NAACP approach has made it possible for a man to know his, his, well rights, given a definition of his, of his rights. BALDWIN: That seems a little simplistic to me but I see, I see what he&#039 ; s saying. I think it-- WARREN: --their history giving him this sense. BALDWIN: Yeah, well, I think there&#039 ; s more to it than that. I think that--I think that&#039 ; s true. But I think there is more to it than that, I think that the whole stream of American history in a way has done that even though that, I don&#039 ; t-- even though it never intended to. And the events of the last twenty years have done that too. And in terms of the NAACP, it would seem to me that you&#039 ; d have to, you&#039 ; d have to be talking about-- you&#039 ; d have to be talking about which chapter, you know. It would not apply to some chapters in the North it would seem to me. WARREN: He was thinking the long-range effect, you see, of the, of the various legal cases over thirty years. BALDWIN: Well, this would apply, I think, more in the South than it would in the North. WARREN: More in the South (??)-- BALDWIN: --much more, much more in the South. WARREN: I see. BALDWIN: I think it&#039 ; s a very different organization in the South than it is in the North. WARREN: Do you follow the line of thought that, that Mrs. (??) Dr. Kenneth Clark takes that the--Dr. King&#039 ; s method in the South has some merit but is inapplicable in the North? BALDWIN: Yes. I&#039 ; m, I&#039 ; m afraid I&#039 ; m forced to agree with that. negroes in the South still go to church some of them. And negroes in the South, which is much more important, still have something resembling a family around which you can build a great deal. But the Northern, the Northern negro family has been fragmented for the last thirty years if not longer. And once you haven&#039 ; t got a family then you have another kind of despair, another kind of demoralization and Martin King can&#039 ; t reach those people. WARREN: But he doesn&#039 ; t know he can&#039 ; t reach them? BALDWIN: Well, I think Martin does know it, you know. I think that, um, he is determined to, um, he&#039 ; s determined--he can&#039 ; t abandon them on the other hand either, you know. And it&#039 ; s not that his--it&#039 ; s not that his influence is absolutely, absolutely negligible ; no, he is still a national leader and, and an international figure. WARREN: He can pack a hall in Bridgeport. BALDWIN: Well, he can pack a hall in Bridgeport but it&#039 ; s very, you know, I can--I&#039 ; ve packed halls, too. It depends on what you are packing the hall with. WARREN: Yes. Yes. BALDWIN: You know, the fact itself can mean a great many things. WARREN: With well-dressed middle-class people is my observation in Bridgeport. BALDWIN: Yeah. Yes. But he can pack a hall of, you know, the boys in the poolroom stay in the poolroom. And they&#039 ; re most--and they&#039 ; re more- -it&#039 ; s more important to reach them, you know, to do something about their morale, and I&#039 ; m not, I&#039 ; m not--by the way I&#039 ; m not blaming Martin for this ; it&#039 ; s not his fault at all. But it, you know, to reach them is really very difficult. Malcolm X can reach them. You know, those, those kids are not Christians and it&#039 ; s very hard not to blame them for not being Christians since there are so few in this Christian country. WARREN: Let&#039 ; s take some specific, uh, episode like the school busing program in Harlem. BALDWIN: Well, I don&#039 ; t know anybody who has a very clear notion of what they think about that and I don&#039 ; t either. I have nieces and nephews who were being bused for a while and some of them still are. And their parents took the attitude that if the kid was willing to undergo this then it was then maybe, you know, it was worth it. But no one, no one thought that it would, it couldn&#039 ; t have any effect really since after all those kids come back home. WARREN: To the same house. BALDWIN: To the same house. The white kids do and the black kids do. And is--what happens in the school day is not going to make that much difference. I think the problem is going to need be attacked on another, on another deeper level, though I&#039 ; m not an expert in these matters. WARREN: Well I don&#039 ; t--God knows I&#039 ; m not. I have talked to several--some people about it who know more than I do, like Dr. Clark for instance. And then, and then I&#039 ; ve talked to Dr. (??), you know, Dotson. Dan Dotson and a few people like that who have, who have special interests and special concerns. There&#039 ; s a large group that takes the view apparently that the busing, except in a limited fashion is, is useless. If you have to go have a big crash program of building schools as best you can and then and, and, uh, and let integration follow rather than precede the process or at least be (??)-- BALDWIN: --yeah-- WARREN: --with it, but you can&#039 ; t make it as an arbitrary outside, uh, outside criteria. BALDWIN: Well, I would tend to agree with that but it gets to be a vicious circle because it&#039 ; s not going to be any good to build schools until you start building neighborhoods. And we&#039 ; ve--we&#039 ; ve seen New York City neighborhoods being destroyed over the last twenty years for money. We are in the hands of, you know, a gang of real estate, gangsters. You know, and all the neighbor---there are no neighborhoods in America--in New York anymore. WARREN: True. BALDWIN: And, and until you have neighborhoods I don&#039 ; t see what you can do much--I don&#039 ; t see what there is--what you can do much about, about schools. You see what I mean? WARREN: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Of course, there is the other proposal of having the great school parks, which draw from all sorts of neighborhoods. BALDWIN: Well, that&#039 ; s a more interesting proposal but it still does not get to the root of the matter-- WARREN: --no, it doesn&#039 ; t-- BALDWIN: --which is why we allow the city to be--to be run this way. WARREN: But meanwhile somebody has to do something. BALDWIN: Ah. Yes, I quite agree. The problem there is, is what in terms of schools. And I confess myself complete--almost completely baffled by it. Um, limited busing school parks, yes but this, these things it seems to me--it seems to me that sooner or later one has to carry the battle straight into the real estate boards, real estate boards and banks. cause that&#039 ; s where--that&#039 ; s where the trouble is. WARREN: Well, let&#039 ; s agree on that. Uh, this is a peripheral question but one that has some significance because people are ready to shed blood on it. And, um, Mr. Galamison would say wreck the schools unless we get integration on my timetable immediately or almost immediately. You know that statement? BALDWIN: Um-hm. I know that statement. WARREN: This, uh, is a sort of argument that makes say the busing a symbol of a thousand other things. BALDWIN: I know. WARREN: Uh, this--make a symbolic solution rather than a real solution. BALDWIN: Well, I&#039 ; m opposed to symbolic solutions and I don&#039 ; t, I don&#039 ; t know Reverend Galamison. I&#039 ; ve never met him so I can&#039 ; t really-- WARREN: -- (??) I don&#039 ; t-- BALDWIN: --discuss his position. WARREN: I&#039 ; m just using it as an example ; not as an attack on him. BALDWIN: Yeah, yeah. WARREN: I don&#039 ; t know him. BALDWIN: But I don&#039 ; t see any point in trying to wreck a school system, which is very nearly wrecked already in any case. Um, at least I don&#039 ; t see any point in saying so. Well, I can only go back to what I said--what I said before in the first place obviously. You know, if you are going to try to be responsible in all this you can&#039 ; t say, you may determine in your own mind but you can&#039 ; t say, you know, we&#039 ; ll have integration on my terms and at once or not at all because if you are going to be realistic about it and you have to be, or have to try. One&#039 ; s got to realize it will--it will take some time. The trick is to get it started, you know. And then in this conduct especially ones not going to get it started it seems to me by inflammatory statements of that kind. When after all ones trying to save the children, if ones trying to do anything. It does seem to me that one&#039 ; s got to, one&#039 ; s got to sue for some real confrontation between the city and the schools. Between the city, between the city that is and the--and the forces of integration and that&#039 ; s where the problem is. I repeat it, that is where the problem is. WARREN: Well it would seem that is the root problem-- BALDWIN: --yeah-- WARREN: --but other things are involved. BALDWIN: Other things are involved in that and the tactics I suppose one has, one has to evolve but would have to have as their purpose to bring about this confrontation. And that&#039 ; s a very delicate and incendiary matter. WARREN: Or-- or a (??), uh, measures along the way. BALDWIN: Well, (??) measures along the way are--are really probably going to be doomed to failure. I think ones got to bring about the confrontation . cause what (??)--what (??) measures in effect really can the city, can anybody make, bring about in this situation? WARREN: If I&#039 ; m not mistaken, Dr. Clark is prepared--I don&#039 ; t want to be certain of this--prepared to accept a period of non-integrated lower grades because there&#039 ; s a massive difficulty, and aim for high school integration, or for (??). BALDWIN: Well, that seems, that would seem on the face of it, I have not talked to, to Ken and I repeat I&#039 ; m not an expert in it, but then I could see why he would, why he would take that position and on the face of it I would tend to agree, you know. WARREN: On the face of it I would because the massive complications of, of the option. BALDWIN: Yes exactly, exactly. I think that there might be much more hope in that. Still it&#039 ; s, still it&#039 ; s obviously a half measure. WARREN: It clearly is but it doesn&#039 ; t half measure-- BALDWIN: --yeah, yeah, yeah. WARREN: When do we--how do we get whole measures, you know? BALDWIN: Well I think you probably get whole measures by--by dealing with a great many half measures. WARREN: That&#039 ; s the (??) technique though. BALDWIN: Yeah, yeah. WARREN: Do not call a half measure a whole measure in a sense symbolically. BALDWIN: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly, exactly. WARREN: Well, we sound very wise on that point don&#039 ; t we? BALDWIN: Yeah, my God. (laughs) WARREN: (??) abstract. BALDWIN: I think that, I think that Ken is right about that. WARREN: I have a quotation here from, uh, Oscar Handlin&#039 ; s new book. May I read it to you as if you can&#039 ; t read my writing? BALDWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: The general disillusionment, since &#039 ; 54, he&#039 ; s talking about, well, you read his book [Fire] Bell in the Night? BALDWIN: No, I haven&#039 ; t read it. WARREN: Just about to come out, just out. The attention of negroes has focused on one cause, segregation, and on one cure, integration. They have come to consider racial separateness the root of difficulty and racial balance as a sole solution. In arriving at this conclusion, they have, paradoxically enough, accepted the contention of their white separatists, the white supremacists that there is really no difference between the North and the South. As a result of this development, the tactics of civil rights movements has shifted and racial balance becomes a primary objective rather than, um, equality and justice. That integration comes (??) rather than an element in a picture to paraphrase some of the other things he said about it BALDWIN: Well, this, it&#039 ; s not such, not such a recent development and long before 1954 I concluded and every, every negro I knew concluded, it wasn&#039 ; t even a conclusion, it was taken as a fact of life. That the difference between, the differences between the North and the South were, were really (??) when the chips were down. That they had different techniques of castrating you then than they had in the North but the fact the castration remained exactly the same and that was the intention in both places. And furthermore, it is impossible to be separate but equal. It, um, because if you are equal then why must you be separate? And it&#039 ; s the--it&#039 ; s that, it&#039 ; s that, it&#039 ; s issue of that--of that doctrine which has created almost, almost all of the negro&#039 ; s despair and also the country&#039 ; s despair. So I think that the instinct to destroy that doctrine is quite sound. WARREN: Separate but equal? BALDWIN: Yes, that&#039 ; s right. It is, it&#039 ; s really an attack on the white man&#039 ; s assumption that, um, he knows more about you than you do and that he, and that he knows what&#039 ; s best for you. And that he can u--keep you in your place for your own good and also for his own profit. WARREN: Shifting ground a moment. The separate but equal or the white man knowing best, of course you read, uh, Irving Howe&#039 ; s piece in Dissent [Black Boys and Native Sons] about you and Ralph. BALDWIN: No, I didn&#039 ; t ; I was in rehearsal. But I, but I heard about it. WARREN: (??) replies. BALDWIN: No, I--I have them all in my desk and I haven&#039 ; t had time to read any of them. WARREN: I wish you had read about it, I&#039 ; d like to ask you a little about that. Ralph called in passing, Irving Howe, a Bilbo for thinking he knew best, Ralph&#039 ; s place-- BALDWIN: --hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Well, I haven&#039 ; t read the pieces. WARREN: I--I--I&#039 ; m (??) asking you to comment because you haven&#039 ; t read the pieces. But this had got that far along. The white man-- BALDWIN: --it got that--it got that heated-- WARREN: --the white man knowing best. BALDWIN: Yeah. Well I think I can imagine some of the things that, that, you know. There&#039 ; s a tendency--I&#039 ; m not, I&#039 ; m not talking about Irving Howe because I haven&#039 ; t read the piece, but there is a great tendency on the part of a great many of the negro&#039 ; s friends, put it that way unconsciously to and really, and really unconsciously. I don&#039 ; t, you know, it&#039 ; s not meant--they don&#039 ; t mean to say the things they say. But there is this unconscious assumption that somehow, you know, if you don&#039 ; t fit into, if you don&#039 ; t take this road or do this or act this way or feel this way that you have somehow, well, you&#039 ; ve--betrayed something. What you betrayed is an image of you. And then of course- -and then, of course, when you--when the, when the black man realizes that he&#039 ; s furious. WARREN: That&#039 ; s exactly the point that&#039 ; s involved here. That you and Ralph have betrayed, uh, Richard Wright. That&#039 ; s the point. BALDWIN: That we betrayed Richard? WARREN: Yes. BALDWIN: How? WARREN: Well, you want to be artists instead of keeping angry enough, you know and-- BALDWIN: Ralph is as angry as anybody, you know, can be and still live and so am I. WARREN: Irving Howe put you and, you and Ralph in the same boat, because you betrayed the trust you see. And-- BALDWIN: --well, who is Irving? WARREN: I don&#039 ; t know. BALDWIN: To tell us--(laughs) WARREN: That&#039 ; s Ralph&#039 ; s point. (laughs) I mean, that&#039 ; s Ralph&#039 ; s point. (??) back to the--to the Bilbo story. BALDWIN: I myself don&#039 ; t feel that I&#039 ; ve betrayed Richard. And I--and I certainly don&#039 ; t feel that Ralph has. First, I don&#039 ; t know how we&#039 ; d do it. Richard&#039 ; s, you know, Richard&#039 ; s achievement is Richard&#039 ; s achievement. And we have every right in the world to disagree with him and we have every right in the world to try to go further than he. In fact, we have every duty to do that. And if that offends Irving Howe well that&#039 ; s just too bad for Irving Howe. WARREN: How would you--did you feel about the--this is something in the morning news or news Saturday, of the complicated tangle which you have on the NAACP suit about construction, injunc-, the injunction, you know, to stop construction in your state (??). By a strange series of ironies the judge passes on, signs the rejection. He&#039 ; s a negro judge in the state supreme court. BALDWIN: There are going to be lots more of those. WARREN: Lots more of those. Uh, it was on, um, I gathered on technical grounds. BALDWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: But it makes a strange, uh, situation doesn&#039 ; t it? BALDWIN: Yes, but, um, not as--it doesn&#039 ; t seem as strange to me as it might seem, you know, to you. WARREN: I don&#039 ; t think it seems-- BALDWIN: --a judge-- WARREN: --strange to you or to me either. BALDWIN: Yeah. Yeah. WARREN: The man&#039 ; s a judge and-- BALDWIN: --he&#039 ; s a judge. A judge is a judge. WARREN: -- (??) read the law. BALDWIN: Yeah. That&#039 ; s right. WARREN: But the psychological effects are-- BALDWIN: --oh, the psychological effects-- WARREN: --can go in many different directions. BALDWIN: Yes, well-- WARREN: --speculating about those psychological effects for both negroes and whites is what I&#039 ; m confused about. BALDWIN: Yeah. Well, that--that sort of keeps me awake at night. It&#039 ; s, um, it&#039 ; s really the subject of a novel, which is very dimly, very you know, in my head. I don&#039 ; t know what that--I really don&#039 ; t know what that means. I just have to sort of beg off because that gets, that gets us into the whole realm of, oh, I don&#039 ; t know. Power, politics, private lives of people and in--and it is also a fantastic assault on the whole idea of race and the whole, the whole myth that negroes and whites are different, you know. WARREN: Well he&#039 ; s reading the law, presumably. BALDWIN: And that&#039 ; s, and that&#039 ; s-- WARREN: --he&#039 ; s being honest-- BALDWIN: --what he has to do. WARREN: That&#039 ; s what he has to do. But the people are going to call him hard names for that. BALDWIN: Of course, of course. But that&#039 ; s-- WARREN: --but he&#039 ; s (??) should. BALDWIN: I think so, I think so, too, yes. WARREN: (??) BALDWIN: I think so, too. WARREN: Or take the case in the Supreme Court where the de--descending, descending Justices Black, and Douglas, and two others who, uh, were out to protect, uh, uh, the present Governor Johnson of Mississippi and, uh, old Ross Barnett. BALDWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: The Federal Court ballot, uh, being for the jury trial. You get the four-- BALDWIN: --yeah-- WARREN: --doubting liberals-- BALDWIN: --the f--yeah-- WARREN: --who are on the legal technicality, uh, are trying to throw the case back into a Mississippi court, where we can predict the outcome. BALDWIN: Yeah. Uh, I--rea--I know, I know what you are saying. I don&#039 ; t know what, um, I don&#039 ; t--I don&#039 ; t know how we find our way out of this labyrinth. WARREN: Well, here&#039 ; s a sort of the same situation, just taking a quote from, um, uh, Handlin again, the last book I&#039 ; ve read, where forced integration of a forced (??) he calls it. That is by bussing back, by edict, by, by boards and things. Shifts by force, uh, any shift by force to make racial balance threatens to reduce the individual to an integer. Be shuffled about by any authority without reference to any preferences. There may be circumstances under which this is necessary but those who advocate it usually show no awareness that what this may, uh, that what this-- that this does not change the roots of prejudice and, uh, or has, uh, other repercussions in principle-- BALDWIN: --yeah, yeah-- WARREN: --of law and society. BALDWIN: Yeah. Well what it comes--what that comes to is that there are going to be very dangerous moments in this, um, struggle which, which one will have to avoid, if it&#039 ; s at all possible, creating a certain very dangerous precedence. WARREN: That&#039 ; s the idea. BALDWIN: Yeah. That is--that is the mo--- WARREN: --well, good answer. BALDWIN: Yes. That is the trickiest element I think about in the entire revolution if that is what it is. Because one will have to and--one has got to be reconciled I think in--under such stress to make to, to do very dangerous things. And then try to prevent them from having the repercussions that they might have. Ones got to undo a hundred years work, you know, in a, in a very short time. And will have t-, it will not be able to be done as tidily as one might wish. You s-- WARREN: --it won&#039 ; t be tidy. BALDWIN: No. WARREN: How do you-- BALDWIN: --I&#039 ; m gonna have to go fairly soon-- WARREN: --well-- BALDWIN: --cause I&#039 ; m getting a little, I&#039 ; m still a little sick and I just should really get home. WARREN: I&#039 ; m sorry. BALDWIN: Okay. WARREN: Well, um, shall we, um. BALDWIN: And I&#039 ; m sorry--I&#039 ; m sorry I have to say that. WARREN: That&#039 ; s (??). Shall we knock it off on this tape? BALDWIN: Yeah. Um-hm. WARREN: All right. What is, let&#039 ; s take one question, we have a few, a minute or two left. Uh, what is the responsibility of a negro as you read it to, um, establish equality or justice? As you see, some of the, some of the white man&#039 ; s responsibilities are glaringly apparent. BALDWIN: Um-hm. WARREN: What responsibilities does a negro have? BALDWIN: Well, I think I can only answer that for myself cause I&#039 ; m not at all really sure I know what a negro is. WARREN: Well, I mean-- BALDWIN: --you know-- WARREN: --rule of thumb-- BALDWIN: --you know, you know what I mean. WARREN: Yeah, the rule of thumb sort of-- BALDWIN: --now, I suppose that I consider the responsibility to be something like this to, um--I think one has to take upon oneself a very hard responsibility which is, you know, something you do with the moral of the young which is to do with a sense of their identity a sense of their possible achievements, a sense of themselves and for this I think one has to take upon oneself the necessity of trying to be an example to them, you know. To prove, you know, to prove something by, by your existence. And further than that I think one has to try to, um, if one could get at the morale then a great many of the problems would be min-, would be minimized. The problem for example of school dropouts we were talking about before, the problems of delinquency, the prob-- which are all the problems of despair and demoralization. Then I suppose one has to say, do things like Jesse Gray is doing in Harlem, which is to mobilize a people less in, less in order to attack the landlords really, as to give the negro people a sense of what they, what they can do for themselves, which is the bottom reason as I read it. The bottom purpose of the rent strike, because if one can bring this off then there is several other things that one might be able to think of doing. Part of the problem of being a negro in this country is that one has been beaten so long and been helpless so long one tends to think of oneself as being helpless. So I think that probably the primary responsibility would be, I suppose, to convey to the people whom one sort of helplessly represents the fact that they are not helpless. And that they are not--and that if they are not helpless then they must try to be responsible and to create a leadership out of these boys and girls in the streets, which indeed is happening. They are doing it themselves. I think it&#039 ; s our responsibility as their elders to, to bear witness to them and to, um, to take risks with--to, to take their risks with them. Because if they don&#039 ; t trust their elders then we&#039 ; re in, then we&#039 ; re in trouble, the we&#039 ; re in great trouble, too. This is what it&#039 ; s, something like that is the way it looks to me. WARREN: Well, I&#039 ; m going to ask a question now that has--probably has no answer, and I see some of the fuzziness of the question right away--how many negroes read your books? BALDWIN: (laughs) Well it&#039 ; s p--it&#039 ; s hard-- WARREN: (??) Southerners. How many Southerners read your books? You know? BALDWIN: Yeah, yeah. WARREN: White Southerners. BALDWIN: Yeah. It&#039 ; s, it&#039 ; s an impossible question to answer. But I do know this, that my-- (coughs)--my brother who lives in Harlem says that, that whores and junkies and people like that steal the books and sell them in bars. Which is, I, there have been a lot of hot things sold in Harlem bars but I&#039 ; ve never heard of hot books being in sold in Harlem bars before. So I gather that means something. WARREN: Yes, that means something that means something. How do you feel about audience? If this is a stupid question, which I know it, I think I know what most any writer feels about audience and writing. BALDWIN: Well, you don&#039 ; t think of it, you know. WARREN: That&#039 ; s what I mean. BALDWIN: You just don&#039 ; t think of it, and-- WARREN: (??) BALDWIN: You hope-- WARREN: -- (??) BALDWIN: No, you just hope whatever you do finds its own audience. WARREN: Yeah. BALDWIN: And that may take a long, long time. WARREN: I know you&#039 ; ve got to go ; I don&#039 ; t want to hang on to you. BALDWIN: No, that&#039 ; s all right. No I, I wouldn&#039 ; t have to go except that my sis--I, I&#039 ; ve been a little sick and my sister&#039 ; s worried. And I, I feel sort of shaky and I&#039 ; d like to get going. WARREN: Well, no, you should. There&#039 ; s no point in torturing you. [Tape 2 ends.] [End of interview.] All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries. audio Interviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections and Digital Programs, University of Kentucky Libraries. 0 http://www.nunncenter.net/ohms/render.php?cachefile=2003oh017_rpwcr007_baldwin_ohm.xml 2003oh017_rpwcr007_baldwin_ohm.xml https://www.kentuckyoralhistory.org/catalog/xt7m901zgp82

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Oscar Handlin
Mass movement
March on Washington
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

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Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.




“James Baldwin,” The Robert Penn Warren Oral History Archive, accessed August 14, 2020, https://www.nunncenter.net/robertpennwarren/items/show/103.