Timeless Teachings: James Baldwin | The Negro and the American Promise

I’ve been noticing a lot of my friends posting more and more quotes from James Baldwin, and I’m all the way here for it.

Last year I was introduced to a PBS special from 1963 titled, “The Negro and the American Promise.” First, if you’ve never heard of this, or seen this PBS special YOU NEED TOO! The shit’s actually on YouTube 🙂 I’ll throw it at the bottom of this piece so you can check it out on your own time!

In this PBS special, psychologist and educator Kenneth Bancroft Clark conducted a series of three interviews with Rev. Martin Lurther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin all surrounding the subject matter of, the negro and the American promise. The special is mind-blowing bruh. You’ll find much of the topics discussed in the special just as relevant today in 2019, as they were 56 years ago. Below I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite quotes from James Baldwin’s segment.

“The Negro and the American Promise” PBS Special 1963

Right to left: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin | The Negro and the American Promise National Archives
Right to left: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin

“I’m terrified at the moral apathy — the death of the heart which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long, that they really don’t think I’m human. I base this on their conduct, not on what they say, and this means that they have become, in themselves, moral monsters. It’s a terrible indictment — I mean every word I say.”

“It doesn’t matter any longer what you do to me; you can put me in jail, you can kill me. By the time I was 17, you’d done everything that you could do to me. The problem now is, how are you going to save yourselves?”

The Negro has never been as docile as white Americans wanted to believe. That was a myth. We were not singing and dancing down on the levee — we were trying to keep alive; we were trying to survive. It was a very brutal system.”

“The country is only concerned about non-violence if it seems that I’m going to get violent. It’s not worried about non-violence if it’s some Alabama sheriff.”

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.”

“The white population of this country has got to ask itself — North and South, because it’s one country, and for a Negro, there’s no difference between the North and South. There’s just a difference in the way they castrate you. But the fact of the castration is the American fact. If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him, you, the white people, invented him, then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question.”

James Baldwin
James Baldwin | August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987



    1. Thanks for reading & for the support! I’ll be posting “Timeless Teaching” pieces throughout the week so hopefully, you’ll find some enlightening!


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