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James Baldwin talks with Studs about a new book and his travel through Africa

BROADCAST: Sep. 29, 1962 | DURATION: 00:47:08


James Baldwin discusses his book "Another Country" and his trip to Africa. Mr.Baldwin and Studs speak about his place in social reform and his fight for civil rights for all.


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Studs Terkel Of all the guests we've had in the past several years of the Wax Museum perhaps the one who has caused the most conversation -- not controversy, really, never controversy -- amongst people of enlightenment, yet questions, probing questions asked and being made to think, of all the guests we've had Jimmy Baldwin is certainly the one who has caused much of that conversation. And incidentally the issue of perspective with the James Baldwin interview is now I imagine something of a collector's item. And James Baldwin is our guest once again. It's a few days after the abbreviated heavyweight championship fight what he came to Chicago to cover for a national magazine. James Baldwin, so much has happened to you since the couple of years ago of the interview. You've been to different lands and you've been involved in different enterprises. What has happened to you? Where do we begin with you? Your thoughts? Have there been changes in your way of thinking since we've talked?

James Baldwin It's a very good question. Yes I think so. It would be hard to say what kind of changes. On the other hand maybe they have not been changes at all. Maybe you know I just discovered --- maybe you simply go on, you discover more about the road you're on, you know, and that you discover more about the things you believe because life forces you to act on what you believe. So I don't know. I don't know if I can say that there's been a great change in my thinking. There's been a great change somewhere in me which I can't put my finger on.

Studs Terkel Well let's perhaps be more specific then, the change in you as a writer, [sound of a lighter being lit] a writer. You've written a book since then the book you spoke of the book, Another Country, at a time when you were writing in Switzerland and the book has come out since and has received reviews that are pro and con.

James Baldwin Very pro and very con. But, you know, very bewildering reception. I don't know what I expected. Umm, I like the book myself. Of course one has to say that. But I mean I do. Umm, it seems to frighten some people. Why, it's very hard to say since in some way I draw, I like to frighten me first and now I can't remember precisely where my areas of distress were. You know when I was working it out, because it's something you blot out of your memory, I think. People think -- seem to think of it as a very harsh and bitter book and in some ways it is. But, umm, in my own mind anyway, it's a very affirmative book and if I may be corny about it, you know, it's meant to be bitter when it's bitter the way medicine is bitter. I'm trying to excavate, if I can use that word, something about what is really happening in America, according to me and from my very limited point of view, my limited vision, which is hardly ever expressed and it's really a book about the nature of the American loneliness and the -- and how dangerous that is. How hard it is here for people to establish any real communion with each other and the chances they have to take in order to do it.

Studs Terkel This point you make the the loneliness and the danger of loneliness and the difficulty of communication in America. Here, you think there's less of that in the countries you visited?

James Baldwin I think so, yes. It's, umm -- by which I don't mean -- it's always very difficult when you talk about America. You know people always say, 'Well is it any better anywhere else?' which is irrelevant. But yes, I do think so. I think that even in France which is certainly you know a very troubling and troubled and corrupt, many ways corrupt country, there is, umm, a certain level of personal, umm, how can I put it, an assumption on the part of the person of a certain largeness and a certain freedom which is very hard to come by here. In Africa, which I just left, which lacks God knows a great many things, you know it has one thing which we don't have which is a kind of a kind of joy among the people which sounds very -- that always sounds corny the word joy is always terribly suspect.

Studs Terkel Tell me more about that. About this joy among the people and some of the countries that you've visited.

James Baldwin Well it began before I went there with my -- one of my sisters. And the way it began is turned out to be typical of the way it was going to continue. We were standing in line at Dakar the customs shed -- waiting to be allowed in, 'cause I'd arrived and we'd arrived in the car without any visas, which was my fault. Well when, while, we were we standing on line, a little girl about three or maybe four, but certainly not more than that, who was standing some distance from us holding her mother's hand looked over at my sister and smiled and my sister smiled at her. And then the little girl left her mother, came running over to Gloria, and made Gloria pick her up and all the children we met in West Africa were like -- were like that. And I never saw, or I saw very rarely you know, a crying child. And I never saw anybody beat a child. And now this sounds you know I suppose it's very dangerous thing to do to draw any conclusion of any kind from such a -- from this and [yet it seemed to me] it was very very important. Someone said to me it's impossible to be an orphan in Africa because all the children belong to all the, you know, to all the grown ups. And as far as I could see and everywhere I was this was entirely true and you could tell it by the way children treated you.

Studs Terkel By the way children treated you?

James Baldwin Well the way they came to you.

Studs Terkel With a certain kind of openness?

James Baldwin Entire openness. No no no self-consciousness. No, uh you - there you were and there they were and obviously, you know, you were a grown up.

Studs Terkel Well since you're talking about some of the West African countries and the sense of joy which perhaps could be equated with sense of freedom too, I suppose.

James Baldwin Yes, a certain kind of freedom, yes.

Studs Terkel Perhaps some of the countries [coughing, unintelligible] is going on in the fields of say, theatre, writing, creativity.

James Baldwin Yeah.

Studs Terkel And do you find a great deal of ---.

James Baldwin That's harder to -- that's harder to assess for me because, umm, how can I put it? In a way there's a great barrier of language and I don't mean that quite the way it might sound. Umm, but for example there's some poets working in French. African, West-African poets, working in French language, who you know who are very important and of course one thinks of [Sengal?] or you think of Aime Cesaire. I-- but when I say the barrier of language I'm referring to the fact that there are so many languages in Africa, you know, and that in time, I think at about this time really, you know, poets are about to be produced out of these various dialects you know who will then have to work in French or in English, you know.

Studs Terkel Ahh, this becomes a problem then--- .

James Baldwin You see?

Studs Terkel That is unique, is it not, to Africa---.

James Baldwin I think--

Studs Terkel And I've got to say, Nigeria, that have such a variety of dialects and languages.

James Baldwin Yeah.

Studs Terkel That it's hard to pinpoint who the creative spirits are centrally.

James Baldwin That's-that's, that's right. Because there may be a very great poet living in this village that-- writing in a language which is, which has no currency except in the village or you know---.

Studs Terkel But I imagine that what will come out of this eventually---.

James Baldwin Oh, I think something very rich, you know, and---.

Studs Terkel And variegated too, won't it?

James Baldwin Yes, that's right, and it will change French and English. Well no they haven't changed.

Studs Terkel It will change -- do you mean, do you feel it will be a synthesis of it in language or ---?

James Baldwin Well the problem they have in education, for example, is how to -- that is to say, if you're a schoolteacher in West Africa and you're you're teaching in English, or in French, it scarcely matters, the problem is how to-- how to translate images of the language in which the people speak. You know the tribal language which they speak. They have a way of saying, for example, let's say wall or water, and a context for it, wall or water which is not English or French. Now in order to get-- in order to teach these people how to speak English or French one has first got to make the word water connect with their word for water. You know, their word for wall. And when this has not been done, it's not been done, really, you you observe a great many Africans in English especially using the language in a very, umm, in a very stilted and Victorian way. It has obviously not become really their possession.

Studs Terkel Ah-hah. So someone becomes rather formal when someone is new to a language.

James Baldwin That's right, that's right.

Studs Terkel The formality takes precedence over the complete ease.

James Baldwin Exactly.

Studs Terkel But eventually.

James Baldwin The problem is for the experiences of these villages to work its way into into the English language. And in that sense it would have to vary, you know, and and change English language in very much the same way, but more violent probably, than that you that the American Negro the presence of the Negro in this country has had a tremendous effect on the way all Americans speak.

Studs Terkel On this point. For example, the use of certain American slang or the so-called 'hip talk,' they become part. In the past that can become part of the American lexicon.

James Baldwin That's right. That's right. A lot of, and a great deal of, you know, the American lexicon comes out of the spirituals, for example, you know the frame of reference even, you know.

Studs Terkel And so in Africa with so many languages and so many of the dialects the language that eventually will come forth which-- should be fantastic.

James Baldwin Should be a very rich language, yeah. Because there's so much unexpressed which is which has got to become -- got to arrive at a level of expression.

Studs Terkel Of the countries you visited -- Nigeria---.

James Baldwin I didn't get to Nigeria.

Studs Terkel No.

James Baldwin I went from Senegal to Guinea to Sierra Leone to Liberia to the Ivory Coast to Ghana.

Studs Terkel Is there one of the countries that you visited you found the most, uh, what's the word? Electricity, perhaps, in the creative sense of it.

James Baldwin Well all of them are electrical in different ways. It's um -- all of them are electrical in different ways and they all have different different attitudes towards their relationship to Europe which changes, you know, the climate in the country. I like Sierra-Leone very much reasons it's hard to say. But in Sierra Leone we were very lucky. We were -- had a great friend, a driver, a man who drove us around. Who is now here in this country with the U.N. And he knew everyone in Sierra Leone and if he didn't know them, he was related to them so that we had, you know, we went through many villages and talked to many people and he helped us, you know, helped us -- he interpreted for us. And in some ways since he was so deeply involved in the lives of Sierra Leone himself and just walking around with him was very illuminating you know about the problems in Sierra Leone and the potentials in Sierra Leone. It's it's hard to talk about creative energy in any concrete sense yet I brought back a lot of manuscripts we haven't and I haven't yet had time to read.

Studs Terkel Yours then it's a series you're planning for the New Yorker magazine---.

James Baldwin Yeah, mm-hmm.

Studs Terkel And yours then will be a series of impressions, won't they, first impressions?

James Baldwin Well, it'll have to be because I-- the Africans kept asking me if I was going to write a book about them. They resent those people who come to Africa to write and spend three weeks and come and go home as African experts.

Studs Terkel It's first impressions, then.

James Baldwin Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel I know the question I want to ask you it's been back of my mind rolling around like a loose cannon ball. I know what it is now. I think of Africa -- we may have touched on this slightly during the past interview, and the history the tradition long before the kidnappings occurred. Now with the new democracies there -- is there a digging back into the civilizations? Has there--- .

James Baldwin Yes.

Studs Terkel Have you come across this?

James Baldwin There is a great effort to dig back and to, and to resurrect, to excavate what was there before Europe. But it's not so easy to do because of many reasons political -- above all, for political reasons, because ummm, West Africa is umm --- only I cannot really speak yet authoritatively, I don't think you know, of the new-- of the new democracies their democracies in, you know . . .

Studs Terkel A state of flux.

James Baldwin In a state of flux or in, as it were, in progress. But there are too many elements too many disparate elements to to to somehow be made into something homogeneous. One begins to realize, for example, the idea of nations is really a very new idea, you know. And quite apart from its intrinsic value, which one may or may not question but that's another, that's something else -- But most of the people in Africa as far as I could tell and most people in Africa don't live in cities, after all, they live in the villages, don't really seriously think of themselves as being Ghanain or Guinean, or whatever, you know, or still less as African, but as tribal people. I don't mean this in any derogatory way. I mean that that that is the way the life is set up, you know, this is the way the villagers operate and have for years and it was also very useful to Europe to have it that way you know. So there was nothing really that was ever done to you know to undermine it or to overthrow it in that sense, you know. I mean it was useful to have the chief used by the British what the British called indirect rule that has had lasting effects in other ways. But in a way it tended to confirm you know the Hermetic quality of I think of African life. If you see what I mean---.

Studs Terkel No, I follow this, I follow this, yes.

James Baldwin Now if -- the problem in all of these nations really is somehow you know to inculcate in the populations a sense of a new identity really because it is precisely what they, you know what they are on the threshold of. But it's not so easy, you know, it's not so easy to achieve this.

Studs Terkel Establishing something that hasn't been there for centuries perhaps was there centuries before perhaps we don't know---.

James Baldwin Yes, yes, yes.

Studs Terkel But perhaps the tribal setup was there from---.

James Baldwin No one no one knows no one knows about--- .

Studs Terkel But it has to start then, the finding a new identity where there was none before.

James Baldwin Essentially, yes.

Studs Terkel But at the same time in among the people with whom you spoke, it's a feeling that some of the tribal aspects must be retained.

James Baldwin Oh yes oh yes oh yes. I myself think this -- you know, though I am -- I probably have no right to speak -- but which tribal aspects are to be retained. How, you know. What value will they have you know and you must remember too that all of -- this is not in the Western press, but all this is after all being done under the great shadow of Europe you know and in many places in opposition to it, you know. The one thing that struck me very forcibly, not the one thing but many, you know, most of the Europeans in Africa were entirely unable or unwilling to accept any of the implications of their role in Africa that is to say they were always very defensive about it. And this, of course, has a-- has a disastrous effect on their relations with the African and it and it tends to to create a necessity on the part of the African to identify himself according -- as Europeans have, according to racial blocks on the basis of color really because white people still do. And white people still have a vast amount of power in Africa and this is a rather frightening, you know, thing to think to think about. But the Europeans the Europeans continually claim there was absolutely nothing in Africa before they got there which is obviously not true. And the Africans you know it's a great temptation to to make it to make an extravagant counterclaim, you know. So that some places in Africa you know there's a whole new history being rewritten or rather invented in which you know turns out that the Africans taught most of the world what we know. Now -- neither and neither neither neither side is true, you know, but this is this is this is a whole tricky area of politics and economics.

Studs Terkel To even make a pun, neither white nor black.

James Baldwin Neither white nor black, yeah.

Studs Terkel The, the the -- Jim Baldwin, your impressions, obviously you say are first impressions -- in other words, you're being circumspect in your comments too because they are your first.

James Baldwin And I don't know anything about--- .

Studs Terkel And you don't intend to be a pundit---.

James Baldwin No.

Studs Terkel Now at the same time these impressions are rather vivid and graphic ones.

James Baldwin Yeah. Yeah.

Studs Terkel A sense of joy is there with all the conflicts and---.

James Baldwin Yes well they have -- they have relationship to each other which has never become anything resembling never achieved the nightmarish self-consciousness of relations people have in the West especially here.

Studs Terkel We've come back and see now we're now talking on two separate subjects earlier you talked about loneliness, that was in your novel, and now about Africa and they both connected the subject of loneliness, again, you see---.

James Baldwin Yeah, yeah.

Studs Terkel That you did not find there.

James Baldwin No, not that loneliness. There's something -- there's another loneliness.

Studs Terkel What kind?

James Baldwin Well the loneliness, for example of some people I used to know in Paris years ago who were living in Paris because they left Senegal or Guinea and went back to Senegal or Guinea when these countries became free. Well they have been away a long time. They've been in Europe for five or 10 years and some of them I know a dancer who is, you know, a star in Paris. And it is very difficult when they go back and and neither is this meant to be in any sense derogatory. What I do mean is that if you lived in Paris for 10 years a certain way of -- lived in the European frame of reference you know and have gotten used to such such simple matters as the fact that you could pick up a telephone and dial it and that it works, well it is a great wrench to go back to Guinea where nothing works you know. Really. No I mean nothing works because there's no capital and there's not a cadre yet of Guineans who can -- who can---.

Studs Terkel Train technicians.

James Baldwin There are no technicians. And in the country, which is, which is yours, but from which you are and always will be in a way divorced because of you know because of your experience. I mean this [happens] in every level from the most private. That is the difficulty of a Guinean male going back to to, umm, a country where women are still not educated. If he's been used -- [sound of a lighter being lit] you know he's been dealing for all these years with Western women or with the Westernized African women you know and his ways, his manners would make him rather strange in all the villages. It is not a hopeless estrangement, but it does create a certain kind of loneliness, a certain kind of, umm -- I admire these people I must say very much, but it is a problem for them.

Studs Terkel With that loneliness that they found, the new kind of loneliness, [Baldwin coughing] you know leaving their home of their childhood and coming to a city of sophistication and devel-- technological development -- except the going back now to their home in a state of being rebuilt their new home---.

Studs Terkel Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel Yet the problem of I suppose material comforts but more than that---.

James Baldwin More than that much more profound than the material comforts the very grave problems of what precisely is the relationship of Africa to Europe which is a very -- an immense problem. Which way -- how -- you combine it with the necessity of really literally creating a country with your fingernails, you know. You've got to dam the rivers Europe never did. You've got to build roads Europe never did, you know. You've got to educate the children Europe never did. You've a million things to do and you are -- Africans, you know, are still -- because a part of that is our asininity you know trapped in the Cold War. And I have not met a single African who was in the least attracted to Moscow or Peking and they resent, and I don't blame them, you know our innocent assumption that they are such children that they can't make up their own minds and there's no reason to suppose, by the way, that they could imitate us either, you know.

Studs Terkel So then what -- they are---.

James Baldwin Or that they should.

Studs Terkel Or that they should. What they are seeking is their own way--- .

James Baldwin They are trying to find.

Studs Terkel That may not be West or East.

James Baldwin That's right.

Studs Terkel But their own way.

James Baldwin Something else something-- and I think from my own point of view that the world could certainly stand you know a new way.

Studs Terkel A new way. [sound of laughing] And loneliness again this is obviously it's a key aspect of life that's on your mind Jim, it was one of the basic aspects of your novel, "Another Country," which I must admit I haven't read yet and I apologize.

James Baldwin I'll get it for you.

Studs Terkel [sound of laughing] Thank you. But that theme of loneliness -- there's a loneliness [Baldwin coughing] in the Parisian dancer had, the Senegalese Parisian, returning to her home country. Did you find this kind of loneliness when you were in Paris and you came back to America? Here was a wholly different problem.

James Baldwin Yes in a way I did. I never thought about it in that way before. In a way I certainly did. I came back. I came I came back in a certain way you never can come back, uhh, and I had to build a whole -- a whole new life because the life that I left, uhh, you can't pick it up you know. Old friends, uhh, are not old friends anymore. Something has happened to you, something has happened to them. You can't talk to them. There's a great gap between you, you know, there are certain habits you've lost, certain habits you've acquired in certain ways you become more definite, you know. Which time does pass, you know. And so therefore there are certain things that you no longer tolerate really you know and certain things you no longer need to do. And every voyager who leaves his country and comes back to their country is always regarded with some suspicion by the people whom he left you know when he when he when he returns. And you can't endlessly go about, you know, apologizing for having left either. So you had no choice but to pick up from where you are and try to establish a life in the terms of the country in which you are living now which I found very difficult to do, really, to tell the truth. I -- it's astonishing I didn't, I never thought of that, you know. My solution in a way was to work which I suppose, umm, says all that can be said you know about what happened when I came when I came back. I'm still very lonely here in a way you know---.

Studs Terkel What . . .go ahead I'm sorry in what way?

James Baldwin Well I don't know. There are certain things that I learned to take for granted certain assumptions I make which, uhh -- I really do assume you know there's is that there's really no difference between whites and blacks. It's not something, that's not an attitude of mine. You know I don't operate on the basis, on that basis. I really don't. Most people here do. And and they do and in the most unexpected context in the most unexpected levels you know. So that you're always finding yourself in the position to be shocking them by some inadvertent remark or being shocked by them being shocked, in fact, by their naivete, by their, by their profound immaturity, by their, one could almost say their cowardice, you know. I consider -- this may sound, this is a very rash thing to say, but I consider that I'm 38 years old and if I haven't found out some of the facts of life now, I never will. You know I think I know some of the facts of life. You know I've had to swallow them. And then there are moments in this country when you feel as though you're trapped in a Kindergarten you know trying to spell out to very well-meaning children, uhh, how to spell cat what apple, and what apple is, and they're very earnest about it.

Studs Terkel It's this is this -- let's [assume] for the moment the well-meaning, and this is an assumption, but this immaturity that you've come across in the matter of race relations---.

James Baldwin Well, not only in race relations---.

Studs Terkel But in everything?

James Baldwin It's in it's in love. It's it's in politics. No you know I don't believe for example that it's that there are three out of four Americans who have any idea what really happened in Cuba, what our role was there and what the meaning of the present impasse is, you know, they're taking, they're taking their decisions about Cuba from the, from the from the press which I think has been extremely irresponsible in this in this in this case and are very prepared to act out, act out on a principle which they have no no means whatever of understanding and don't and don't really understand the danger that Cuba represents Cuba represents a very great danger, but we are responsible for having created it.

Studs Terkel Responsible---.

James Baldwin It's this level of immaturity that I mean you know which is which is so frightening.

Studs Terkel Of the acceptance of clichés---.

James Baldwin That's right.

Studs Terkel As a truth and as the whole truth---.

James Baldwin And the inability you know the refusal almost to think. The same way that people suppose, I guess, I gather they suppose there is some legitimate debate between Mississippi and the United States, you know. I don't see there are two sides to that question, you know. It's a question which should have been resolved a hundred years ago and that never had two sides.

Studs Terkel This is rather interesting the two sides to a crazy kind of coin here and the coin is not legitimate, the metal apparently, and that's the seeing, only one side vis-a-vis Cuba. But seeing two sides vis-a-vis Mississippi.

James Baldwin Yes, yes, yes. And by the way this has great repercussions in Africa too. I'm very glad I'm not in West Africa this morning because to try to explain to anyone in Africa what the government is doing, why those mobs in New Orleans, why this fantastic hassle about letting somebody have a cup of coffee is a very unenviable task because it can't be defended. And on the other hand you know one has no right, I think one has no right, you know to to allow the Africans to to to cling to or to be submerged by all their misapprehensions about the United States you know. One is always in a position when you're out of the United States of having to say 'well it's not that bad,' you know. Even though something in the back of your mind whispers 'maybe it is' you know but still one has got whatever whatever cause to try to achieve some kind of clarity, you know. Therefore, you have to try to explain the relationship of all the states to each other and the whole history which resulted in this terrible impasse you know but irreducibly irreducibly the African asked you about ultimately what 'if I were in your country and if I were an American what would happen to me there?' this handicaps this handicaps all the American efforts in Africa much more than Americans are willing to realize. And when you have a situation in which a government is willing to invade Cuba in order to free the Cubans as it says and cannot get one Negro boy into the University of Mississippi the African wonders who you think you're fooling. And I don't blame him.

Studs Terkel There's another point that you raise here that I find amusing and sad, not too amusing, really, the point, it is bad for our reputation abroad. And we say this is not evil per se you know but the editorials so often says 'oh boy what they are going to make of this'---.

James Baldwin Yeah, yeah, well that's

Studs Terkel not---. We must behave in a Christian manner only because others will think ill of us if we don't---.

James Baldwin No, we have to do it because it is right. And the reason we don't do it because it's right is because we so we are so immature to come back to that and and have been so unwilling to think hard problems through.

Studs Terkel So it's a combination of two, then, two aspects of life, that touch you. The loneliness and the immaturity and perhaps they're one aren't they.

James Baldwin Yes, I think they are.

Studs Terkel And the loneliness may stem from the immaturity.

James Baldwin But you know you can be -- you have the right to be immature quite some time you know. But if you're immature, let us say beyond the age of 27 you're not any longer immature you are frozen you know. And the only way you would then grow up would be, would be, would demand then a cataclysm, you know, you'd have to be broken up into pieces and put back together again, which most people can't survive, in order to you know in order to become a man or woman. But if you're frozen in this peculiar way that you can only be lonely because you can't -- you haven't any -- you haven't got any basis on which to operate, on which to [reach?] out to others, you have no, no dance floor.

Studs Terkel No dance floor, yes. Jim, how then -- what do you suggest for a process of unfreezing?

James Baldwin Oh God [sounds of Baldwin and Terkel chuckling]. I don't know really I don't know. You would have to have to begin by doing very dangerous things. It's such an individual matter. You'd have to---.

Studs Terkel Dangerous things---.

James Baldwin Ask yourself very very hard questions about the way you want to raise your child, you know. Which standards, which values you think he should, he should accept and which standards, which values you think he should not accept and you have to be very very, you have to be dangerously rigid about it, you know. I think, and this is not a very attractive way to put it, but umm if you don't believe in God, well, I think you are obliged to raise your child that way, you know. And if you do, of course, you are obliged to raise him that way. I think what I'm trying to say is that you you have we have no right any longer to compromise for expediency sake and to go along with the social pressures because it seems easier to do it that way. I think precisely that, that sense of expediency is what is, you know, is responsible for our trouble now. But you see how difficult it becomes. On a purely social level and on a deeper level one has got to ask oneself what one really believes. Most of the ones I know I really got to ask themselves what they really feel about miscegenation. On a personal level not as not as a kind of abstract favor to me. I don't care what -- you know I'm not important here right now. What is important is what you really think what you really feel.

Studs Terkel It has to be personal then, and---.

James Baldwin It has to be personal, and everyone always wants to avoid this but this is where everything begins.

Studs Terkel That someone speaks as you know I said 'of course miscegenation is right,' as you say, in an abstract sociological way, but that it has to be thought of in personal immediate terms.

James Baldwin That's right, that's right. Otherwise it really doesn't mean anything. And what is worse, if you take an attitude and you've never examined it, when a crisis comes you'll be surprised at what you can do, what base things you can do.

Studs Terkel And what good things you can do?

James Baldwin What good things you can do if you know what you're doing. In that case, it cannot be an attitude. Yes.

Studs Terkel And what -- what base things you can do if you're not as fully mature as you think you are.

James Baldwin That's right. That's right. [sound of lighter being lit]. And the attitude, you know, when the attitude is called when you when you're called on to take a risk to defend what you say you believe.

Studs Terkel And then comes the period of rationalization .

James Baldwin That's right.

Studs Terkel Of the excuses.

James Baldwin 'I wouldn't mind, you know, but.' 'I don't care if she marries him, however.'

Studs Terkel Yes. So it's the 'buts' and the 'howevers' that somehow must be pinpointed.

James Baldwin That's right that's right.

Studs Terkel And whenever we hear the 'but' or the 'however' no matter how well meaning that speaker might be we've got to stay with that 'but' and 'however.'

James Baldwin That's right, that's right. Because that's where the key is. That's where the key is. What is really [demanded?] in this country, I think you know it's very important, it probably won't be done, is that we surrender the notion of, surrender the notion of being a White nation. It is an absolutely useless idea anyway, you know, and with 22 million Negroes here occupying the peculiar and dangerous position that they do we cannot be called a White nation anymore. If we could make this revision in our optic.

Studs Terkel This then is wrong. The acceptance of the phrase or the idea or the image or word, I hate image, or the vision of white nation is just as wrong as say -- I don't know if this is [the Black Muslim idea?] and say a black nation. Both are equally wrong.

James Baldwin They are both equally wrong. Yes. And I would I would hate to see the old nightmare repeated for the next 2000 years as we say the shoe on the other foot.

Studs Terkel The shoe on the other foot. There are far far more people of color in the world than Caucasians. And this is too something I suppose that we as white people not from the standpoint of just protection but from the standpoint of morality. We should think of the standpoint of reality. Yes there are far far more people of color in the world than Caucasians.

James Baldwin This is the way it is. This is the way it is. And you know we all know we don't all know it.

Studs Terkel We are not the self-anoin-- we are not the anointed, we are the self-anointed.

James Baldwin Yes, exactly. We're not the chosen of God as you know, White people always seem to think. Because it creates a very peculiar situation in which white people seem to think that the closer a Negro gets to be like them the better he is. Well I don't I don't accept that proposition at all, you know I mean I don't mean to suggest that you the more you become like me the better off you are either, but, uh, I don't see any reason why we can't live you know in peace as it were, you know and enjoy the things which, which are different---.

Studs Terkel With our own uniqueness.

James Baldwin That's right. That's right.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of you and on a panel show, a couple of years ago and it was a good man and he said to you somewhere in the discussion it was rather heated, you know very well what he said to you, 'I accept you' and you said to him, 'I don't mean to be rude, sir, but who are you to accept me?'

James Baldwin Well yeah. This is this is, that's what I mean. And, most most White people make the assumption quite innocently, you know.

Studs Terkel Who am I to accept you? I'm trying to find where the holy oil came from. I can't find it. [sounds of Baldwin laughing]. Jimmy, I know that your comments on all these matters are perceptive and deep and they affect the listeners. We're interested, everyone is, in what you as a creative artist do. You finish the book, and I understand you're working on a play.

James Baldwin I'm working on a play, yeah. I want to take that plunge which I should have done maybe a couple of years ago. I guess I'm doing it to see if I can. It's -- I have two plays, actually, one play is nearly finished and will probably be done off-Broadway this fall, and-- as soon as I can get a second act into some kind of shape. The other play's longer. I'm not scheduled for anything yet except the Actors Studio where I intend to work it out, umm, well I guess come spring. And you know I want to work with Sidney Poitier.

Studs Terkel He, he will be in it you mean?

James Baldwin I mean I can't I can't speak for him---.

Studs Terkel No but I mean he -- it's a role involving---.

James Baldwin We are going to work in the workshop together, you know.

Studs Terkel Would it be premature to ask you what the theme is?

James Baldwin It's difficult to say. It takes place in the deep south, two acts, first in the church, second in the courthouse. It's framed within the-- the play begins after a Negro boy of about 20 has been killed and no one quite knows who did it. It's a very small town which is an embattled town because Negroes -- make up a, you know, are boycotting several stores and the town has begun to feel it. Umm, the premise of the play is that we are pretending to search for the boys murderer so we, what we see what we see is the course, you know, the course of events which led to the murder. And the result of this is the three people in the play three important people in the play there are the boy who plays the Negro boy's father, who is one of the leaders in the town. Uh, there's a good white man of the town who is about 40 and kind of [rusted out?], well meaning and really a very good man, and the murderer. Now the good white man is the best friend of both the father of the murdered boy and of the murderer. And what is what happens in the play really is that all these people, or these two people especially, the good white man and the good black man, let us say, you know, are forced to examine themselves in a very rigorous way because finally the responsibility for the murder which is according to me shared by almost everyone in the town, you know, it revolves on them and especially the white man here, you know, to force the murderer to confess but the father has also some means to confess of his own, the ways in which he failed.

Studs Terkel It's a play then of self examination and the chain of guilt---.

James Baldwin Yeah.

Studs Terkel In the chain of---.

James Baldwin Yeah.

Studs Terkel That all in a sense being guilty.

James Baldwin Yeah. Yeah.

Studs Terkel Because isn't this the -- it's funny how a creative spirit day returns almost inevitably, must come to that that that target.

James Baldwin The guilt, yeah. It's a terrible, it's a terrible conundrum---.

Studs Terkel And yet cannot be avoided.

James Baldwin No, it can't. No, it can't.

Studs Terkel Certainly, you must face this---.

James Baldwin It's the only way you can accept your responsibility, I suppose, you know. Once you've, once you've begun to examine the guilt and also begin to be -- you have to be released from it in order to you know in order to function.

Studs Terkel I'm not too hip to existentialism but I think this is De Beauvoir's position, Sartre's position I think.

James Baldwin I think so, I've---.

Studs Terkel Is that every man -- it's an affirmative [unintelligible]---.

James Baldwin I think it's affirmative---.

Studs Terkel That man can each of you must take a stand committed and then that chain of responsibility [sound of lighter being lit] comes to him even if no matter how much out of it he thinks he is.

James Baldwin That's right, you cannot be innocent.

Studs Terkel So this is your play, that you cannot be innocent---.

James Baldwin Yeah, yes.

Studs Terkel That is, not acting is acting. Not taking part is taking part.

James Baldwin That's right. That's right. That's right. There is no place we can sit down and say has nothing to do with me.

Studs Terkel So this comes back to all of us sitting here and Mississippi and every other aspect that that bugs us one way or another. It comes back to the individual again and, James Baldwin, perhaps one more subject of your adventures, you've been in town to cover, this seems to be in a lighter vein, and yet it isn't it's all connected, the heavyweight fight between Sonny Liston and Patterson very brief fight. And you spoke to both. Is anything -- you speak to Floyd Patterson to Sonny Liston, both American Negroes, both expert [well wasn't that the question?] but expert craftsman both being champions you know. Did you have a feeling as an observer of the two men, the phenomenon itself, the fight?

James Baldwin I had a very strong feeling about, about both of them. I talked more to Floyd Patterson than I did to Liston. I will say I liked Floyd Patterson very much and I admire him very much. Umm, he's very fantastically gentle and very, umm, again, very lonely and very tough in him, you know. In a way he's a gentlemen. Or he's, you know he's he's a real man. [There's] something in Congress, there was something for me in Congress. The spectacle of him occupying you know in that world, that may have something to do with my lack of knowledge of the boxing world, umm, I don't know how to-- I can't I can't really say what I felt about Floyd Patterson except that I suppose what I felt mainly was his immense you know heroic struggle you know with the circumstances and with himself you know to support a position which you know the position of champion, heavyweight champion of the world which is in some ways a baffling position. But I must say something which perhaps is rather reckless. And I watched him with the press, and he handled himself you know very beautifully, one was yet aware of the great gap between their, their sense of reality in general, there are exceptions to this, but in general their sense of reality and his sense of reality and that he was terribly aware of this gap too that there were things, elements of him as a man and as a boxer which they were not prepared in any way whatever to to deal with. And it's certainly one of the reasons you know that the press has often been so, umm, ambiguous about Floyd. He's he's uh, he's very proud in a very, in a quite intransigent way and [he's simply?] so far from looking or sounding like what we think of anyway---.

Studs Terkel The stereotype of a fighter---.

James Baldwin As a boxer, you know, that I think he baffles, you know, and, uh, and even intimidates, you know, a great a great many people. And I think he knows this and I think it increases his loneliness. As for Liston, I liked him very much he didn't impress me as being as tightly organized, you know, as Floyd but very direct and very, uh, and very intelligent quite-- you know, the press is entirely wrong about that and with great dignity, you know, from the from the point of view of the press I suppose is if you you're quite right earlier when you compared him earlier to [a blues singer?]---.

Studs Terkel Big Bill.

James Baldwin Big Bill, yeah.

Studs Terkel Very much so.

James Baldwin If he were a singer the things he says and the way he comes on, you know, would be taken as charming. And, let us face it, Liston's criminal record is umm, is appalling I suppose but I must confess I'm not really particularly appalled by it. Everything depends what he does-- what he now does with it. But I don't know. I don't know too many people who come out of just those situations who are very admirable people, you know, to be able to put him down for that but because he is not singing but boxing and because he has to face the press in a way that a singer doesn't have have to do and because the press has been so uniformly hostile to him he you know it seems to me that he reacted by being-- I didn't feel that he was being outrageous. I felt that he was simply giving as good as he got and holding his own, you know, and that the press took that as being outrageous and anyone who really talked to him you know got a very different impression of him than you get from the newspapers.

Studs Terkel Here then with two wholly different figures [sound of lighter being lit]. Each one equally impressive in his own way.

James Baldwin Mm-hmm.

Studs Terkel I suppose the big question is what will happen in the development of the discoveries of Floyd Patterson? He made a discovery after he lost his first fight and in that dark period of his life and now perhaps the---.

James Baldwin I've, I have a great deal of confidence employed. He's had a very lonely journey. One of the loneliest journeys I've ever, I've ever seen you know one of the most beautiful too I think. I think he has a very long way. And he will go a very long way.

Studs Terkel This has nothing to do with fighting now---.

James Baldwin No.

Studs Terkel We're talking about Patterson the man?

James Baldwin What he does actually and, you know, that on that level is by comparison irrelevant. There is something in him which he's got to deal with and which will take him somewhere which would be very valuable I think for all of us.

Studs Terkel This is, I know premature to even mention but it seems to me that Floyd Patterson is the protagonist of some novel or play, certainly.

James Baldwin I've had that suspicion too.

Studs Terkel I'm thought-- I'm sure you did [laughing]. Anything you-- else you want to talk about, James Baldwin, anything that you feel like talking about?

James Baldwin Well, we sorta just bounced around, you know, umm, there are too many things, you know.

Studs Terkel The changes, in the beginning we were saying, we spoke about the time you appeared in a couple of years ago in different places things have happened [unintelligible] you said changes in you and I know it's difficult to say for you to-- yourself to say what the changes were in you in outlook.

James Baldwin Well, Marianne Moore put it once very well, I think. In fact, she wrote, she wrote a few lines, which, in some way, you know, I remembered when I was in trouble. I think she has, which says, umm, 'the weak overcomes its menace, the strong overcomes itself.' 'What is there like fortitude?' 'What sap went through that little thread to make the cherry red?' And she also said she said that she was a life prisoner but reconciled you know. I'm in some ways more reconciled I think than I was two years ago.

Studs Terkel In a more reconciled anyway, that is to the-- but you will still be the rebel against that which you consider---.

James Baldwin Oh yeah. To be reconciled is not to be passive, you know, at all. Oh yes. I don't, I don't really consider myself a rebel. I don't know what the word is---.

Studs Terkel No, that's the wrong word, perhaps but reconciled. And I think the word reconciled [Baldwin coughing] is the one that attracts me. Reconciled in what way?

James Baldwin Well reconciled, I suppose, to the life I have to live and the things I have to do, you know. And uh, you pray that you have enough in the bank to pay all those dues you know.

Studs Terkel Enough from the spiritual bank?

James Baldwin Yeah yeah. Well you know, you never know whether you do or not but it's just the chance you have to take. I find myself in a place you know which I never calculated. Never meant to be in. And, umm, well you can't escape anything so if you can't escape it, you've got to, you know, you've got to act and you've got-- since there's no safety anywhere you might as well take your chances as take, as take anybody else's chances, you know, the odds are just about the same. And if you're doing what you think you should do at least, umm, at least you can live with yourself, you know, no matter how many other people you find you cannot live with.

Studs Terkel And so perhaps in saying this-- remember, last time the last question I asked you was 'do you know your name, who are you?' And you said you were a writer and you hoped to be a good man and to write well and pray for rain. And this time I say to you I say, 'now you know your name even better---.'

James Baldwin I know it is somewhat better than I did, you know. I'll find it out yet though, Studs [Baldwin chuckling].

Studs Terkel On this journey-- this is, let's call this chapter two, as far as we're concerned, of James Baldwin's journey and from that we say so long for now, again.

James Baldwin OK.

Studs Terkel James Baldwin, thank you very much.

Thank you, Studs.