One cannot about the American civil rights movement without mentioning James Baldwin. Born in 1924 in the squalid conditions of Harlem, New York City, he was a prominent voice in the Renaissance of Black arts and culture. He rose to become one of the finest authors of his era – and his words still have a powerful reverberation up to this day.
After working numerous odd jobs in New York City, he came face-to-face with the racial discrimination around New York City, and struggled with his sexuality – realizing he was gay. He took on a writing fellowship in Paris and that is where he nurtured his writing to incontestable heights, tackling racial and social themes head-on, without fear. His first novel ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ was published in 1953.
He sufficiently documented the experiences of Black Americans in his writings, and his essay ‘Down At The Cross’ is acknowledged as one of the most powerful and convincing works portraying the lives of Black Americans and the racism prevalent in the United States at the time. He died in 1987 but his fountain of knowledge lives on for eternity. Below are some of his quotes inspiring priceless wisdom:
- “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”
- “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
- “If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony!”
- “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”
- “All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations.”
- “To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”
- “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
- “The purpose of education…is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions.”
- “Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience, you must find yourself at war with your society.”
- “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”