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James Baldwin

Source: Anthony Barboza / Getty

There’s an uprising happening in America that’s very similar to the passionate protests of the 1960s when our parents were fighting for us to have many of the rights that we have today. In 1968, legendary writer James Baldwin did an interview with Esquire in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s untimely death.

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The interview’s focus was on race relations in America. It’s uncanny how much a specific message from our history can make so much sense today as we’re dealing with tension between police and Black civilians who are continually losing their lives at the hands of said officers. Our country is burning and honestly there’s not too much we can do to “cool it.” Ask James. Check out a snippet of the poignant interview below:

Q. How can we get the black people to cool it?

James Baldwin: It is not for us to cool it.

Q. But aren’t you the ones who are getting hurt the most?

JB: No, we are only the ones who are dying fastest.

Q. Can we still cool it?

JB: That depends on a great many factors. It’s a very serious question in my mind whether or not the people of this country, the bulk of population of this country, have enough sense of what is really happening to their black co-citizens to understand why they’re in the streets. I know of this moment they maybe don’t know it, and this is proved by the reaction to the civil disorders.It came as no revelation to me or to any other black cat that white racism is at the bottom of the civil disorders. It came as a great shock apparently to a great many other people, including the President of the United States. And now you ask me if we can cool it. I think the President goofed by not telling the nation what the civil-disorders report was all about. And I accuse him and the entire administration, in fact, of being largely responsible for this tremendous waste and damage. It was up to him and the Vice-President to interpret that report and tell the American people what it meant and what the American people should now begin to think of it. Now!It is already, very very late even to begin to think of it. What causes the eruptions, the riots, the revolts- whatever you want to call them- is the despair of being in a static position, absolutely static, of watching your father, your brother, your uncle, or your cousin- no matter how old the black cat is or how young- who has no future. And when the summer comes, both fathers and sons are in the streets- they can’t stay in the houses. I was born in those houses and I know. And it’s not their fault.

Q. From a very short-range approach, what should the federal government do, right now, to cool it off?

JB: What do you mean by the federal government? The federal government has come to be, in the eyes of all Negroes anyway, a myth. When you say the federal government, you’re referring to Washington, and that means you’re referring to a great many people. You’re referring to Senator Eastland and many people in Washington who out of apathy, ignorance or fear have no intention of making a move at all. You’re talking about the people who have the power, who intend to keep the power. And all they can think of are things like swimming pools, you know, in the summertime, and sort of made up jobs to simply protect peace and the public property. But they show no sign whatsoever of understanding what the root of the problem really is, what the dangers really are. They have made no attempt, whatever, any of them, as far as I know, really to explain to the American people that the black cat in the streets wants to protect his house, his wife and kids children. And if he is going to be able to do this he has to be given his autonomy, his own schools, a revision of the police force in a very radical way. It means in short that is the American Negro, the American black man, is going to become a free person in this country, the people of this country have to give up something. If they don’t give it up it will be taken from them.

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