Moses Moon Civil Rights Recordings 1963-1964: Washington, DC; after November 22, 1963(OT_N19)

Web Video Text Tracks Format (WebVTT)


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James Baldwin: -- and then that cow prodder and that nightstick and that gun, because the white power structure in the South put him there and put those weapons in his hand.

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He is a overseer, he works for them, to protect their interests to keep the negro in his place.

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This has done terrible things to Negroes, this has done something worse to the sheriff, and what he has done to the people whom he represents is almost not to be believed, and it is the nature of that destruction which menaces us today.

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-- What I saw -- What I saw was that if one had to make this terrible choice between being that sheriff and being that boy and the boy might die, and one knew that, in any human sense

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the only choice you could make was to be that boy, because the boy had what most white people in this country do not have: a real sense of himself. A real sense -- of his human value.

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His irreplaceable value. Nobody can be replaced. Everybody -- is sacred.

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And in this country now we do not believe that.

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-- We do not act on that. And the paradox is, that the humanity which the country has always denied me, because it has denied me my humanity, it is losing its own.

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You do become -- what you think other people are. You do become-

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James Baldwin: You do become your victim. If we-

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James Baldwin: -- have survived all those labels and all that pain I tried to raise this question before, and I would like to try to raise it one more time, because it is a serious question.

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If I have found out in spite of all that you have done, if I have found out that I am not a nigger, and I know that you invented him because you needed him then it is a very great question: who is a nigger here?

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Part of the price that Americans have paid for this delusion -- part of what we have done to ourselves, proof of what we have done to ourselves, was given to us in Dallas, Texas, something like a week ago.--

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This happened -- in a civilised nation. -- A country which is the moral leader of the free world.

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And a lunatic blew the president's head off. -- Now I want to suggest something, I don't want to sound rude.

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But we all know,-- that it has been many generations, and it hasn't stopped yet. -- That black man's heads have been blown off. And nobody cares.

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Unknown Speaker: Hear Hear. [[clapping]]

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James Baldwin: Because as I said before, it wasn't happening to a person, it was happening to a --

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James Baldwin: -- we all know that this country prides itself on something it calls 'upward mobility.'

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Upward mobility means, among other things, other rather sinister things, it means that if you were born a poor boy, -- say you're born in the ghetto, or in the backwoods someplace, or say you were born in Sicily, and you, and you can't speak English very good yet,

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It means that if you work hard and save your pennies and be a good boy, you'll get to be a junior executive by the time you're thirty.

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That's what 'upward mobility' means, and as far as I can tell, that's all it means. But this does not apply, of course, to one tenth of the population.

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Because any black boy born in the backwoods, any black boy born in the ghetto, knows very well that he's not going to get out of the backwoods or out of the ghetto by working hard and saving his pennies and being a nice boy.

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Unknown Speaker: Hear hear.

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James Baldwin: If this is true for me, if I am imprisoned in the ghetto, somebody's keeping me there.

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I would walk out if I could. If I can't walk out, it's because there's a warden someplace, and somebody put it many generations ago.

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Those are the two people you always find in prison: the man in prison, and the man who keeps him there. And I, of course in this context, have a terrible advantage since I understand, I have to understand by the time let's say I'm twelve, the nature of the prison, and your nature you my warden,

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and then I can figure out how to outwit you, and I do.

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James Baldwin: -- and I survive all your prisons, but you have not. If -- we in this country have, had a stronger grasp of reality, of reality!

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When I say reality, I mean the reality of another human being. Another human being! If we had -- not lost that -- then the assassination of Medgar Evers would have aroused the country then!

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He was a father, he had a wife, he had children. He was an American!

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He was also killed, we are told, by a lunatic. I am suspicious to tell you the truth of these lunatics who crop up at the most inconvenient or convenient times and places, but in any case--

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--in any case, I don't care what hand pulled the trigger. He was put to death.

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By the Southern Oligarchy who still intend, with the country's help, to keep the negro in his place. That is why he died, and that is why nobody cared!

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Six kids were murdered! in Birmingham! On a Sunday, and in Sunday school, in a Christian nation [[banging hand]] and nobody cared!

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James Baldwin: -- and because nobody cared then -- we are in this trouble now. Because the forces which we have allowed to take over in this country also killed poor President Kennedy and not because, let us tell the truth,

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not because he had turned into John Brown, and not because he was a great civil rights leader. Let us no be so pious as to make now a myth out of what we know.

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Unknown Speaker: Tell 'em.

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James Baldwin: He died -- [[clapping]]

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He died for a very simple and complex reason.

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And I want to examine the reason I think, according to me, where I begin to see something which all of our, that is to say, all of our public communication systems deny, what he did

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was break the bargain the country had struck around the turn of the century when we agreed in the North that the South do what they wanted to it's niggers, and we do what we want to with ours.

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That was what created what we call the Solid South.

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And he broke [[??]], poor man, he had no choice but to break it.

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And the Southerners were understandably furious since, after all, when James Foreman talks about one man one vote, if we really should achieve one man one vote, that is the end

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-- of the Southern Oligarchy, and that really is also the end of the Democratic party as we know it.

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And that suggests to me, that fact suggests to me, some of the dimensions of the crisis, which we now face.

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How can I put this?

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I was trying to suggest before, that what the country has done to one tenth of its citizens, has had a disastrous effect the country.

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It is obviously, or maybe it's not so obvious, this seems to be a controversial point.

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Well, it seemed to me obvious.

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That if you are intending to establish, to live in, to create a democracy.

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It will seem obvious to me that you have a responsibility all of your citizens.

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It would seem obvious to me, that any son, any native son or daughter.

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Has all the rights that any other native son or daughter has.

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It is bad enough, for us not to be so.

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That's bad enough.

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But what is really much worse.

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Is a sister, of lies, ovation and naked oppression, designed to pretend it isn't so.

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It is one thing, really, is one thing to club a kid half to death or to death.

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That's bad enough.

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But it's quite another thing, to then be told, you the survivor, the hypothetical survivor.

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To then be told,

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The question to have across your mind, at such a moment, always crosses mine anyway, you do want that tomorrow? [[laughter]]

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No, no.

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The virility and vitality I was trying to talk about before, which I heard in that music, when I said, that is all that can save this country now.

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It was a kind of energy, which allows you, which in fact forces you,

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to examine everything, to take nothing for granted.

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To understand that because this has been done this way for 200 years, does not mean that it has to be done this way for the next 5 minutes.

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To understand that if, this is intolerable, if, for example,

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you don't think you can work within the Democratic party, then you haven't got to.

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That there are other ways of working, you can think of other things.

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It is a vitality in short, which allows you to believe, and to act on the belief

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that it is your country, and your responsibility to your country, is to free it.

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In order to free it, you have to change it.

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And we've had to do that.

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Americans until today and it's a frightening thing to think.

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The youngest country, we like to say. The richest country, we like to say and the strongest country, we like to say.

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And yet, the very notion, of change, real change, throws all Americans into a panic and they probably look for another label to get rid of this dissenter.

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A country which is supposedly built on dissent,

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built on the value of the individual, now distrust dissent

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at least as much any totalitarian government can

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and debases the individual, in as many ways as it knows how because it's placed something above him,

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and what it's placed above him is safety

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and money.

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And when these things, are coveted in a country, when these things are honored in a country.

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The country, no matter what else they have, is in danger of perishing.

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No country can survive.

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No country can survive without the passionate, active, responsibility, of all its citizens.

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This country now, really, in terms of its politicians, always seems to feel, well, it's out of our hands, we can't do anything.

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A country which has no need to, is always talking about the lesser of two evils.

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I hope you see what I am trying to suggest.

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I am trying to suggest this, that in order, for me,

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as a Black citizen of this country, to begin to be a free man here.

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In order for that to happen, a great many other things have to happen.

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I cannot be, even if I wish to be, I cannot be fitted into, the social structure as it stands.

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There is no possibility of opening it up, to let me in that way.

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In the very same way, that in the Deep South, for example, or all over the country,

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Christian churches do not have me, in their congregation.

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And when I move into the congregation, not one of me.

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When the church itself embraces, all Christians, the church will have had to change.

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In order for us to survive, and transcend the terrible days ahead of us,

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ithe country, the country will have to turn, and take me in its arms.

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Now this may sound mystical, but at bottom, that is what has got to happen.

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It is not a matter of giving me this or that, it's not yours to give me.

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Let us be very clear about that.

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The question that is haunting Americans is not whether or not it is going to give me my freedom,

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I'm gonna take it. That problem is solved. [[clapping]]

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But the problem is the price, not the price that I will pay

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James Baldwin: The price the country will pay. The price a white woman and a white man, and a white boy and a white girl

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will have to pay, in themselves, before they can look on me, as though I was simply another human being.

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This metamorphosis is what one's driving towards.

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Because without that, we really will perish.

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We really will be locked in such dissension, that we will be paralyzed, as indeed we almost are now.

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The internal dissension in this country has really had a terrifying effect everything we've done in the world.

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And as it not a lot, we are not able to look out, we are not able to envision anything because we're in locked in civil war.

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Now, of course, the ways in which one begins to achieve the liberation of a country, are always a little, have to be,

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awkward and disturbing.

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And any one, single aspect of this problem, if you think about jobs, the question of jobs and freedom.

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Well, the first thing you're confronted with, really, is that the economy itself right now,

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can't employ all the white people.

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And in my view, one of the reasons for this.

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One of the reasons, I am deliberately not talking about the fantastic nuclear stockpile, which is costing us so much money.

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One of the reasons for this, is that a great deal of energy, of the energy of this economy goes into creating things nobody needs and nobody wants.

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And everybody has to buy because everyone buys them.

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Nobody needs a new car every year.

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It doesn't really matter what kind of toothpaste you use, you know,

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These things are not important.

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But, in order for me to get a job, and it's true even if I don't say so.

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In order for me to get a job-

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James Baldwin: We've got to figure out some way to get everybody else a job.

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And we're not going to be able to do it, the way we're doing it now.

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That's a fact, I'm sorry.

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And as for freedom.

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I'll tell you what I know about freedom.

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And I know people do not agree with this, and they think I don't have any political sense.

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But I know that James Forman, for example, and Chico, for example,

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are much, much freer

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than most of the white people I know in this country.

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For that matter, I am too.

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The reason is, I think the reason is,

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that in order to be free, lets look at some facts, the facts of your life very hard, an offense

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then to look, into you, and know who you are.

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At least know who you're not.

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And decide what you want, at least what you, will not, have

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and take it from there.

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People are as free, I find to say, as they wish to become.

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If one thinks of Americans in this way,

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it begins to be a very sinister matter.

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The way the word freedom is used here.

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Freedom is used here mainly as far as I can tell as a synonym for conflict.

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People seem to think they are free, because, they don't have a military machine oppressing them.

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And they overlook the fact, that there are many, many ways to lose your freedom

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and one of the simplest ways to lose it, is not through, not by military means, the simplest way to lose is to stop fighting for it.

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To stop believing in it. To stop respecting it.

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That is the way freedom goes and when it goes that way

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James Baldwin: In a way that way.

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I think when freedom goes that way, it simply, sort of, evaporates, vanishes, nobody cares.

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A certain chaos takes its place.

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A chaos, rather like the chaos we have watched in Germany.

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And again, I understand, this is supposed to be a horrible example, but I still think, I still believe,

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that when, when it's everyone's fault, of all human feeling, you can do anything, to anybody, and justify it.

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And we do know, that in this country, for a very long time, after all, we have done just that.

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The nature of them, of our crisis, it seems to me, is in those of us,

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who will not live, unless we can't be free.

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Make this known.

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Make it known.

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That the events, the terrible events of the last ten days

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have done nothing to alter this determination.

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And that, in fact, if what had been undecided or uncertain before,

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about what it meant to try and liberate oneself and this country.

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What ever hesitation one might have had before, have vanished now.

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Because, now we have seen with our own eyes,

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what danger we stand in.

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We have seen with our own eyes, what happens to a society when it allows itself to be ruled by,

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the least able and most abject among them.

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We have seen what happens

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James Baldwin: When the word democracy is taken to mean, is taken to be a synonym for, mediocrity.

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When the trust of a society is not to raise, all of its members to the highest, possible level.

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But on the contrary, to reduce, such members as aspire to excellence, down to the lowest common denominator.

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We have begun to see, what happens when a country confuses its politics, with a popularity contest.

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We have begun to see, that the grasp of reality which I'd say we do not have, is what endangers us far more than Khrushchev and far more than Castro.

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In the world, that what we do not know, about our black citizens, is what we do not know, about ourselves.

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And what we do not know about ourselves, is what we do not know about the world, and the world knows it.

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Nothing can save us ( -- ) not all our money, nor all our bombs, nor all our guns,

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if we cannot, achieve,

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a long, long, long delayed maturity.

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Thank you

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{audience member 1} The Pope, when speaking to many Catholics, I was told that the Pope was not allowed to marry because he was [[of its kind thing or?]] religious.

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Now I realize that the Pope has never been prolific in the field of anti-oppression. And also realize that Christian churches in the traditional South, in New England, and in the West do not admit Negros. And I also remember something the late P. D. W. Boyd said, that the people in Africa before they were brought to America to become slaves, they were Muslims, they were speaking Arabic or dialects of Arabic.

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Now they were brought to this country and given Christianity and now they are the most, they are the best Christians in the world. [[?And they are called]] the best Christians in this country and I believe this. And I wonder if we're gonna become free I wonder should we give up Christianity as it was taught to us by slave masters, as practiced by slave masters.

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I wonder if it would be necessary given such cause, uh, it seems that the people who taught us Christianity aren't living, aren't living according to their ideals and it seems to be a [[?]]. It seems to me it should be a [[?]].

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James Baldwin: No, um. It's a hard question to answer, all I can do is speculate, but I think it is very important recog- to, very important to bear in mind.

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{audience member 2} Could you repeat please?

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James Baldwin: I beg your pardon?

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{audience member 3} The question.

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James Baldwin: Oh, the question. I'm sorry. The question, in essence, was, um, since the whole role of Christianity in the lives of black people has been so bloody and since white Americans are not themselves genuine Christians, whether or not we, black Americans, ought to give up Christianity. Is that that your question?

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{audience member 1} I should clarify a bit more. One is should we give up Christianity and find a religion that is more suited to our needs?

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James Baldwin: No, no, no. Anyway, do you, do you, have you understood the question?

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James Baldwin: The question is in essence whether or not we should give up Christianity, whether Black people in this country should give up Christianity.

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I think that's fair, isn't it? That's the essence of the question.

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{audience member 1} Will you make some assumptions [[inaudible]]
James Baldwin: I beg your pardon. {audience member 1} Will you make some assumptions first. [[laughter]]
James Baldwin: Let me try simply to answer what you take to be his question.

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His assumptions, well I was going to address myself to one assumption which I think is false.

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You will see soon through example.

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That the reason Negros, or the way Negros became Christians was because their masters taught them Christianity.

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But is that what happened?

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They became Christians in as far as they did, and by the way, the word,

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you know on a scale of several definitions, when they practiced the Christian religion by making it their own.

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They took it over and the songs we were talking about earlier, come out of that experience.

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It's not a question of giving up therefore Christianity and certainly, one couldn't give it up just because white people are Christians.

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It's a question of whether or not being able ( -- ) This is our experience, it is all ( -- ) it's what brought us here

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and it is only this which carries further than this.

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It is not a matter of the Christian religion, it is a matter of something which we have done with it

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and it one of the technics of our survival.

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And I think that we can carry it much further,

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I don't, I don't associate with Christian religion.

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I associate it with something else. I associate it with the auction [[??]] and I'm not concerned with the Pope, at all.

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I don't care what white Christians do ether, that's their problem. I really don't care.

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But I do, care, that we,

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we, Black Americans, in moving into the future, do not deny our past, that's what I [[inaudible]]

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{audience member 2} Mr. Baldwin, in a number of ways

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[[background talking, in crowded area throughout interview]]
Audience member: of becoming the action that's needed before we can, as a nation, change ourselves.

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and the part about the [[Scripture?]] as a turning to one another. Putting it in one way, as lovers turn to one another.

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And I appreciate so much what you said today, but the question that grows out of this.

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In speaking about the way in which we become, so really, what we think other people are.

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Now, after having stood on the street of Selma, Alabama, and seen what happened there,

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how, what kind of counsel, could you give those, who stand on these streets, and are terribly tempted to think of those people as nothing but bigots and segregationist and half humans.

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If we, if we I'm taking you're saying, if we allow ourselves to think of that way too, we also shall be overcome.

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How shall we avoid this?

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James Baldwin: I think--

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James Baldwin: I think that the only way we can avoid it.

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I think I understand.

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I know the tension in me, I know how angry I can get, I know what, I know sometimes -- things.

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I think that it is very important to remember, but I know it is sometimes almost impossible.

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It's very important to remember that the people, for example, who run Selma, Alabama.

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Are monsters because they are in the wrong place.

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You have to understand, I think, that in fact, the Sheriff Jim Clark, had been born in another country and not have been put to uses he had been put to,

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he might not have become a monster.

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And what one has to do, is not so much blow his head off, as it'll get it replaced,

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to get another government, in fact, which will not allow, people of such total incompetence

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and I mean incompetence, even given aside his bigotry, given aside everything else, just purely incompetence.

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What we have to do is, find out who put him there, and we know who put him there.

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Then get rid of the cat that put him there,

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and then we may have in Selma, Alabama a place for human beings to live.

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That answer you at all?

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[[background talking, in crowded area]]

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[[audience member 1]] Mr Baldwin, do you advocate a third party? And if so, do you have any in mind?

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James Baldwin: I'm sorry, the question is do I advocate a third party and if so, do I have any in mind.

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I beg your pardon. I'm sorry the question was: do I advocate a third party and if so, do I have any in mind.

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I know the honest answer I can give to that, is to say, that it's a question which much occupies my mind.

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I have not thought my way through on it, I certainly don't have any existing party in mind, no.

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I have thought of-- and I still think of-- the possibility of a fusion party, that's the word I want.

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Because there are so many elements of the Republican and Democratic Parties, which are unusable and um, and menacing.

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As long as [[??]] is in the Democratic Party, I have a certain amount of trouble becoming very enthusiastic about the Democratic Party. [[clapping]]

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[[audience member 2]] Mr. Baldwin, as you interpret the American scene, how do you accommodate,

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in your apparent philosophy, the apparent intent of major civil rights organizations to neither agitate nor demonstrate

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until President Johnson's reelection, we can congratulate?

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[[laughter, clapping]]

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James Baldwin: Well, since I am not, myself, nor a major civil rights organization.

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[[laughter, clapping]]

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I don't understand the strategy. I

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James Baldwin: ...profoundly, profoundly disagree with it. I do not think that we should allow any such pious consideration halt this drive.

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{audience members} Yeah! [[applause]]

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{audience member 1} Mr. Baldwin, can you explain what you meant by your statement when you said that you could not really be free in this country even if you wanted to, and even if everything was open to you?

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James Baldwin: What I am trying to suggest is this: I said that I could not be, even if I wanted to be, fitted into the social structure as it stands. And what I am suggesting, among other things, what I am suggesting is a standard of life lived by most White Americans is a standard I reject.

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James Baldwin: I will not live that way. And in order for me to live in this country as a free man, they will have to grow up. I don't think that I'm in the least prepared to exchange what I've learned in the streets of Harlem for all the lies I've picked up since in Chicago Sheraton hotels.

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James Baldwin: No. No! I know something about what it is, what is like to live and be a human being, which most White Americans do not know. In order for us to survive in this nation, they have to find out what I know, what Ray Charles knows, what Bessie Smith knew. That is what I mean.

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James Baldwin: Yes.

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{audience member 2} Mr. Baldwin, what do you think of the place of the White man in the movies? It's been a subject of great discussion [[?]]. [[laughter]]

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] [audience member 3} [[?]] Can you repeat that question for us? Can you say it out loud?

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{audience member 2} I asked him, I asked him what he thought of the place of the White man in the movies. [[laughter, clapping]]

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James Baldwin: That's a very tough question in a way, but I'll tell you what, the only thing that's really tough about it.

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James Baldwin: A White man is a White man if he says he is.

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He is a White man if he thinks he is. You know, he is a White man if he thinks he is doing something for Negros.

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But you haven't got to be White, the present role of the White man in the movement, is obviously none as long as he's White.

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[[applause, laughter]]

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James Baldwin: But do you see what I mean? I'm not trying to be, I'm not trying to be, uh--

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[[crowd noises]] [[coughing]]

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unknown speaker 1: But Mr. Baldwin, well you could turn the coin around on the other side and equally say that the place of the Negro is not that of a Negro, but a human being seeking human dignity.

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James Baldwin: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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[[applause]] [[coughing]]

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unknown speaker 2: Mr. Baldwin?
James Baldwin: Yes.

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unknown speaker 2: The really important thing when this movement ends, daily everyday life, and I'm sure many field secretaries as myself have been beginning to hear the winds of violence blowing gently and seeing Muslims catching on, especially in law.

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I can hear your comment on the positive actions that I can counter some of those programs, actually what are they about, and how do you account for some of the things that, uh, you're beginning to hear out there in the field, especially violence?

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James Baldwin: Mmm. Well to tell you the truth my friend, there you and I meet. I mean I know what you are talking about. I am very aware of it and exactly how you counter it, I really do not know. I really don't. No, I am not trying to cop out.

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James Baldwin: I really do not know partly because, partly because it is not really entirely either up to you or me. It is up to other forces in this country, which you and I do not and cannot now control. You know?

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I can understand very easily how any Negro adolescent can be driven to the edge of despair and further than that. And there is very little truthfully

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James Baldwin: You know, that one can count on to do to stop that.

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James Baldwin: The only thing, the ultimate thing they want do to stop it is somehow liberate- get this thing off the ground.

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James Baldwin: What we're doing off the ground and channelize it- all that energy into this, that's the job as I see it.

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James Baldwin: But we are in great danger, that is one of the dangers and I really can't give you any answer.

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James Baldwin: Yes?

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{Unknown Speaker 1} Bald, you didn't suggest that we would come to the movement but I know a lot of people have the idea in their mind that they should come to the movement and you go to college and all your kids leave and all the people with masters and people with bachelors will tell you that you're supposed to be objective and you're supposed to go to a primary source and not a secondary source.

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{Unknown Speaker 1} So when we have instructors telling that the Black people was doing this, or that the Black people was doing that, they say I know because I have read a book about the Black movement when they have never come to the temple which is in walking distance.

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{Unknown Speaker 1} So I went there and I got an invitation and it wasn't necessary, but I got a friendly invitation from the head of the sociology department to go visit the Black movement and I wanted to extend it to everyone here.

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{Unknown Speaker 1} Don't read about the Black movement and come to conclusions, you go and ask them.

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{Unknown Speaker 1} You ask them and if you don't understand them, you speak to them in a private session and try to understand.

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{Unknown Speaker 2} I'd like to go to the next meeting.

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[[crowd laughter and applause]]

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James Baldwin: I don't... I'm not sure I understand the nature of your question.

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James Baldwin: I don't think there's any point, we have certainly other things to do then sit around contending with the Muslim movement.

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James Baldwin: I myself, have never-- I'm not trying to be frightened of the movement as a movement.

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James Baldwin: And it's one more symptom of the danger in which we stand.

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James Baldwin: As the Muslim theology, as theology goes, it's no better no worse than any other, I guess, you know?

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James Baldwin: As with social action it seems to me, you know, incomprehensible.

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James Baldwin: I don't know what they intend to do, but you are quite right-- you know?

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James Baldwin: On the other hand you're quite right one should not being told what to think, especially not by the subjective professors.

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James Baldwin: But on the other hand, one shouldn't brainwash oneself either.

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Moderator: We have one more question, and that'll be the end, because we have to, to um, we have some business to take care of. Some business? Uh, so, Uh so, I saw...

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Audience1: Uh, in view of the, seeing the fact that the upper classes the ruling powers have given away all but the last vestiges of power to the great middle class,

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do you see group...what can you do when you're dealing not so much with the leaders who are almost unreachable and control very little power ah that you can directly get at,

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but you're dealing with these huge millions of masses of people who are in the middle class who see themselves aligned against any sort of movement.

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James Baldwin: I'm not altogether sure I understand your question but I do understand it. Umm

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Audience1: In other words, there's no target it used be that you go to Eastman but now Eastman is is not really the thing. But you've got lots of people that work for Eastman and lots of people that think Eastman's job is their job but helps him helps them

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James Baldwin: Yeah well I don't... my own attention wouldn't be with on those people particularly because I don't in the very same way, to put it cruelly,

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I don't expect an awful lot of help from the Negro middle class and for the same reason.

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James Baldwin: The only thing we can do about those people is eliminate-- to change the standard in which they live.

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James Baldwin: You certainly will never get the middle classes in any country to be on the side of any revolution. Because it obviously means they're gonna could lose something.

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James Baldwin: Since you can't possibly hope to get their support, there's no point in, you know, going to their parties.

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James Baldwin: What you have to do then is work on how to immobilize them simply, so they can do ... so that they do the least possible damage.

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James Baldwin: But there's absolutely no point in pretending that they're ever going to be friends not not until long after this is over anyway. But I think if you think in terms of how your going to reach

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James Baldwin: you become very quickly demoralized and nothing gets done.

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James Baldwin: That seems to be it. Thank you.

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[[applause]] [[background voice]]

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Moderator: OK. Would ... would we please sit still for a little while.

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We have ... we have (What door are you parked at?)

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Moderator: After this section, we're asking that all students from southern colleges and from southern communities to remain.

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Moderator: That would include field secretaries, and directors of projects.