ALL ARTS Vault Selects


James Baldwin - Take This Hammer

This 1964 documentary shows James Baldwin discussing racism in housing with San Francisco's Black community. His conversations are interspersed with poetic scenes of everyday life in neighborhoods that are about to be lost to gentrification. Baldwin presciently describes the impact of job and housing discrimination, which remain relevant to today's conversations around racial equity.

AIRED: June 09, 2020 | 0:59:46


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San Francisco? Yeah.

Aw, man, I'm gonna tell you about San Francisco.

San Francisco ain't did a thing for me.

I mean, ever since I got out of high school,

I had a couple of jobs.

I worked at a couple of hat companies and warehouses.

I mean, after a while, they say,

"Well, I guess we're gonna lay you off

for a couple of weeks," you know?

All right. They talk about the South?

The South is not half as bad as San Francisco.

You want me to tell you about San Francisco?

Yes, sir. I'll tell you about San Francisco.

The white man -- he's not taking advantage of you out in public

like they doing down in Birmingham,

but he's killing you with that pencil and paper, brother.

When you go to look for a job, can you get a job?

Can you get a job, Winkle?

This is the San Francisco Americans

pretend does not exist.

Man: Right. I hear you.

They think I'm making it up.

Narrator: National Educational Television

presents "Take This Hammer."

♪ Take this hammer ♪

This is a film report on a visit to the city of San Francisco

by the novelist, essayist, and playwright James Baldwin.

♪ Take this hammer ♪

Mr. Baldwin's guide on this tour of the city

is the executive director of Youth For Service,

Orville Luster.

♪ Take this hammer ♪

♪ And carry it to the captain ♪

♪ You tell him I'm gone ♪

♪ You tell him I'm gone ♪

I know New York and New Yorkers.

All Northerners, anybody in the north, seems to feel that,

because they're not in Mississippi,

they've paid their dues.

They don't know why a Negro boy turns into a junkie,

or why, you know -- why, when he does carry a knife,

why he carries it, and they don't even make

any kind of connection between the aspirations

which this country expects him to be content with

and the simple fact that he's a human animal

just like everybody else.

What he's foraging from

is only more or less than frustration and demoralization,

despair, and bitterness,

which at least in the South is overt,

but, you know -- but here in such a city as San Francisco

where everyone is so liberal and so civilized

and so literate, it's all under the rug

or maybe even in the cellar,

where it can corrupt the entire house.

That's some trouble.

I think the truth is that everyone, on one hand,

is fundamentally capable of paying his dues,

but no one pays his dues willingly, you know,

and the white man, like the black man,

like any other man on Earth,

can pay his dues if he realizes that that's what he's got to do.

As long as you think there's some way to get through life

without paying your dues, you're gonna be bankrupt.

The bill has come in.

It's not coming in.

It is in.

And the great question now

is precisely what we've got in the bank.

This will cost us everything we think we have -- everything.

And Birmingham is an instant, you know,

which may become a shrine.

What is really crucial is whether or not the country,

the people in the country, the citizenry,

are able to recognize that there is no moral distance,

no moral distance, which is to say no distance,

between the facts of life in San Francisco

and the facts of life in Birmingham,

and there is no moral distance, which is to say no distance,

between President Kennedy and Bull Connor

because the same machine put them both in power.

And we've got to call it --

You know, we've got to tell it like it is.

And that's where it's at.

♪ Oh, I said I wasn't gonna tell nobody, but I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪ ♪ Oh, I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪ ♪ Oh, I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ Said I wasn't gonna tell nobody, but I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ What the Lord has done for me ♪

♪ Oh, I said I wasn't gonna testify, but I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪ ♪ Oh, I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪ ♪ Oh, I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ I said I wasn't gonna testify, but I ♪

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

Orville: And then this is part of our redevelopment, also.

What do you mean?

You say say redevelopment meaning what?

Removal of Negroes.

[ Laughs ] Yes. That's what I thought you meant.

In other words, now the Negroes who came

because the Japanese were pushed out now are being pushed out.

Now being pushed out themselves. That's right.

In effect, San Francisco is reclaiming this...

That's right. ...this property...

That's right. build it up, which means Negroes have to go.

That's right. Mm-hmm.

And in -- Where are they going to go?

Well, they're going out to Hunters Point

and to the Haight-Ashbury area and also into Oceanview

and wherever they can find reasonable rent. Rent, yeah.

South of Market and all those other places,

wherever they can find cheap rent.

In other words, going from one ghetto to the other.

Yes, yes.

Woman: I'd like to acquaint you with San Francisco

as a home, Mr. Baldwin,

and I think mostly what's being watched here today

is something black, and young people go to school together.

They graduate off the same stage,

and then when it comes to jobs,

the black face is not qualified, but they graduate.

Then my daughter have to go clean up the same girl's house

that she graduates off the stage.

As I say, the most thing that's being watched is the black face.

What we were talking about last night

coming into the airport was the real situation of Negroes

in the city... Man: Yes. opposed to the image... That's right.

...San Francisco would like to present.


Well, why don't you tell me a little bit about it?

I know a lot about New York, but I'm a stranger here.

As they say, I'm sure the principle holds,

but I'm curious about the details.

Well, one thing about it in this particular area,

about 80 percent of the people in this area are Negro.

This is a real large housing project.

There is -- As far as delinquency is concerned,

we rank about fourth.

The job situation is bad.

This is a real black belt of San Francisco,

and I think that the lady over to your left,

Mrs. Nichols, is a good representative

of one of the indigenous leaders in this area.

Baldwin: Tell me something.

This may sound like a stupid question,

but it's a question I have to ask myself all the time.

What precisely do you say to a Negro kid...

to invest him with a morale

which the country has determined he shan't have,

or to spell it out more specifically,

when dealing with a Negro kid and trying to insist

that he know that he can do anything he wants to do,

how do you make him believe it?

That's a difficult question,

and I think that one of the main things

that we have to make him believe --

You know, they say, "Everybody can be

the president of the United States."

[ Laughs ] That's true.

And then this boy grows up, and he comes up,

and by the time he gets 14 or 15 years old,

he begins to find out that this is not true

and to make him be able to face

what's coming to him in the future.

Man: Never gonna be a Negro president in this country.

There never gonna be a Negro president in this country?

Why do you say that?

If we can't get jobs, how are we gonna be a president?

You got me, but I want you to think about this

because there will be a Negro president of this country.

There will not be the country that we are sitting in now.

Whenever you say to yourself,

"There never will be a Negro president of this country,"

then what you're doing is agreeing with white people

who say you are inferior.

It's not important really, you know, whether or not

there's a Negro president, I mean, in that way.

What's important is that you should realize

that you can become the president.

There's nothing anybody, anybody can do that you can't do.

Well, the truth is to get...

I don't think this is an exaggeration.

I think the truth still is that

even to get the most meager opportunity,

you've got to be at least five times

as good as anybody else around,

five times as good not only at the job,

but this is what is so dangerous, I think.

You have to have a certain...

The boys that I grew up with,

I grew up in the streets in Harlem,

and of the survivors, what marks all the survivors

is a certain ruthlessness which was absolutely indispensable

if one were going to survive,

and the country doesn't realize that, I'm sure,

that, well, Negro operators who are really smoothest

and toughest operators in the world.

When I say operators, I don't mean anything wicked.

I mean somebody who they looked at it, knows what the score is,

knows where he is,

and doesn't buy any of the moral jazz about America

about, you know, good and evil and upright

and all these things which the country, in effect,

uses only to keep the Negro in his place

because the country doesn't believe it, obviously,

and doesn't live that way itself.

So there's a whole race of people who are,

in effect, an underworld, which I think is very crucial.

Man: I knew it. I knew it.

I knew it. Don't have to worry!

Don't have to worry for nobody, and that's how you make it!

Don't have to worry! How do you make it?

What you mean, how I make it? Yeah.

This is [Indistinct] how I make it!

Look, I'm indicting myself, [Indistinct] what I done did.

[ Laughter ]

[ Indistinct chatter ]

Man, what you was talking about for,

and so when I tell you that I robbed a bank

in Los Angeles, you believe that?

Well, no, if you don't say you did.

I ain't gonna say I did it, neither!


Same kids we're talking about now --

their real problem is they cannot find in the country

any reason to accept anything the country says,

and they're very young, so they can't find anything else either,

and this is how they end up, for example, on the needle.

It's a crime.

I mean, we have one section of the population --

of the populace against another section of the populace,

and it's a crime which really could destroy this country.

What do you think about the police?

Man: I think they have a purpose, but then it's, again,

the way some of these people do you sometimes

when they pick you up and stop you,

or, like, a couple of times,

I'd be downtown just walking around.

They look at you.

If you look suspicious, they would just stop you.

Like, I was going to a show one night, me and my wife,

and we just happened to go around Market Street,

and we seen this police car go by.

All right, we turn the corner.

The next corner, they meet us, and they stop us.

Our show starts at 7:45.

We were out there till 9 o'clock.

They didn't have an excuse to stop us,

but they stopped us to search the car

and call in and this and that.

And what was the purpose of that?

We weren't doing anything wrong.

Nobody was mad. Let me ask you one thing.

What the police do when they get mad?

What does the police do when they get mad?

I mean, we're ordinary citizens.

We get mad, and we can do things

to hurt people and rob and steal.

What do they do when they get mad?

Who do they take their steam off on?

I think you know the answer to that question.

Well, I couldn't answer that because the police has never

bothered me in that way, but I read newspapers,

and I've been living around here all my life,

and I see things going on.


Well, when a policeman gets mad, he's got a gun,

and he's got a club.

[ Speaks indistinctly ]


Tell me something else.

Do you think the police protect you?

Well, it's like you say. They got to make a living, too.

They got wives and families and kids to take care of.

I mean, it's just a job to them.

Some of it is just a way to make some money.

It's not no hard work, actually.

I mean, it's hard when they run up against somebody,

they got to stop somebody from taking something

or go chase a robber or somebody, something like that.

I mean, it might be considered hard to them

when their lives in danger.

But other than that, what's hard about riding around in a car

and looking, or walking up and down the streets looking?

What's hard about that?


We got no argument.

Well, this other thing, these dogs, what about them?

Are they necessary?

What do you think?

I don't think they are because when they put a dog on a man,

that's just like sending a dog, another animal,

to bite another animal.

The dog don't know that it's not another animal.

He gonna -- He's taught to do one thing,

and when he bites somebody, he's gonna hurt him.

Well, I'll tell you what I think about dogs, you know.

I think it's a crime, worse than a crime,

for a civilized country,

a country which says it's civilized,

to use dogs against men.

That's what I think.

And we all know that black people in this country

are the lowest of the low.

Everybody spends day and night telling you so,

so when the dogs are used, they're used against you, us.

And what about the Negro police?

They use dogs, too. Yeah, maybe.

Cops are cops, you know? [ Laughter ]

I mean, they're all just one of a kind and... That's right.

When they got their use for them... That's right.

So in other words, when a Negro becomes a policeman,

he thinks like a white man.

Woman: I like to say that of the white man --

I wouldn't say the northern because we do have

some right here.

They'll think they the white fathers, also.

Baldwin: Oh, yes. I know that.

They think that because they haven't got signs up saying,

"White and colored,"

that they're somehow better than the people in Birmingham.

Woman: It's one thing that's different

in San Francisco and Birmingham --

it is that San Francisco is whitewashed.

Baldwin: Yes, precisely!

In San Francisco, it's under the rug.

You know, it hasn't hit the headlines yet,

and everyone in San Francisco,

every white person in San Francisco

pretend they haven't got a Negro problem.

Everywhere I have been in this country, you talk to

a white person who says, "Race relations are excellent,"

and I have yet to find a single Negro in this country

who agrees with that.

Woman: And then if you'll ask

that the Negro have a better opportunity,

ask that Negro be hired in a large firm,

they'll reach out and hire one. That's to shut your mouth.

Baldwin: And put him in the window.

Woman: Yeah, or either give him a mop.

Baldwin: Or a mop, yes. Yes.

Woman #2: Well, Mr. Baldwin,

I'd like to also say that Hunters Point seems to me,

in my opinion and in my way I'm looking at it,

Hunters Point is just like being in Alabama right now.

Baldwin: Mm-hmm.

Woman #2: And I feel that we'd all --

some of the ones that can't go now,

we can march on San Francisco for the black man

or to help the black woman.

We can do that here because it has been stated that

until we work on this,

San Francisco and other areas, New York and all of Chicago

and all around, that we can get something done.

We can help our brothers in the South.

Baldwin: In the South, yes. Yeah.

Woman #2: The black people in Alabama are my people.

Baldwin: Yes. Yes.

Woman #2: Primarily, I'm from Texas.

But anywhere in the South, anywhere a Negro is --

a black man is involved, I'm there.

I'm the mother of five kids, the mother of a 9-week-old baby,

but if the time comes where I can't march in San Francisco,

I certainly will beg, borrow a ticket to go to Alabama.

And I am ready.

But it's just because of the baby,

and he is a breast-fed baby,

is the reason why I can't go right now,

but if it means that I'll have to march in,

I'll march feeding my baby right here

for the black man or my children...

That's the way I feel.

Baldwin: Yes.

[ Gospel music plays ]


I suppose that no one in San Francisco has any sense

of what a dangerous area this is.

And I think this is one of the real troubles is that

the Negro in San Francisco, he doesn't really know his place

because it hasn't been really spelled out.

I mean... Yeah.

...he's trying to find his place and his soul,

and this is one of the problems, you know.

I mean, "What place is there for me?"

You know, he came out to escape.

Yeah. But you keep...

And he's in another prison. That's right.

You know, and you find yourself

facing the Pacific Ocean, you know?

Yes. There's no place else to go.

Yes, yes, yes. You know?

Now you can see this is... Yeah.

...more residents and apartments and so forth coming down.

It will soon lead to Market Street.

Real problem is, how in the world

one is going to invest these children

with a new morale, with some sense of their own worth

because the country isn't gonna do it.

Country won't do it.

I suppose one could say, at the moment,

the country can't do it in a sense of its own worth.

Something that troubles me, too, because --

Well, it's almost insoluble. I don't know.

One can't afford to say it's insoluble.

It's really rough.

And too, you know, like, the parents,

what do they tell their kids, you know?

Yeah. I mean, they see them suffering,

and, I mean, they see them trying to strive

to do many things,

but what do they tell them, you know, I mean,

because they themselves can't --

Because they themselves did not escape.

That's right.

Their children are demoralized by that.

For sure.

Man: We have no race. We have no race at all.

Man #2: We have no flag.


[ Indistinct chatter ]

Tell me what you mean.

Huh? Tell me what you mean.

What I mean? Yeah.

I mean I'm transplanted, you know?

Yeah. I'm transplanted.

I don't have nothing over here.

Nothing over here?

Don't have nothing.

I don't have anything.

How long you felt that way?

How long I felt that way?

Since 1956.

Since 1956? Yeah.

Why did you feel that way?

Huh? Why did you feel that way?

Because I realized what a dog the white man was.

How did you come to realize it?

When he got stuck jumping on me

and putting me in jail and everything, you know?

Where did that happen? Where?

Yeah. Right here in San Francisco...

Right here in San Francisco?


Tell me how it started.

How it started? Yeah.

What you mean, how it started?

Tell me about the first time you were arrested.

The first time I was arrested?

Yeah. Well, that was --

Or your first -- That was in 1948.

That was in 1948? Yeah.

What for?

Well, I don't know what they call it,

but I got caught in a bedroom with a little white girl.

[ Laughs ] They sent me to juvenile.

Where was that? San Francisco.

That was in San Francisco? Yeah.

How old were you in 1948?

8. What?


Man: Never let a white man catch you on your knees, brother.

You were 8 years old? Yeah.

You were 8 years old in 1948? Yeah.

And you were caught in bed with a little white girl?

And you went to jail? Yeah.

When you were 8? Yeah.

In San Francisco? Yeah.

Lookit, you learn from the world you live in, brother.

That's why we need to teach you [Speaking indistinctly]

what you want to know,

and you ain't never known nothing about it.

He's not even teaching me about the future of my people!

What you go to school for then, dummy?

We don't even have a country!

I know that! Do we have a country?

He say the United States is your country,

which it's not your country.

What flag go on the black man flag?

We have no flag, brother, no flag at all.

I have your hamburger. Give me $0.30.

[ Indistinct chatter ]

You're a big man.

I'm not a big man.

I ain't holding no microphone. You're holding it.

Well, look, I'm no big man. Give me $0.30.

Give me $0.30 and see what we get.

Say, that's supposed to be your brother.

This cat can't even do $0.30.

Nah, brother. I haven't got $0.30.

Nah, I want him to give me $0.30.

I want him to give me $0.30.

[ Indistinct chatter ]

I want you to give me $0.30!

I asked you!

I'm gonna ask you. I'll give you this $0.30.

Now, what does this mean to you when I give you $0.30?

It means that we're true brothers, brother.

Because I give you $0.30?

You ain't give me nothing.

You're not giving me nothing.

Now, when I give you the $0.30...

You helping me out!

I'm helping you out, and I'm your... That's right.

...true brother now because I've given you $0.30.

You ain't my true brother! I didn't say that!

You're my brother but not true brother!

All right, now, what does this really mean to you, this $0.30?

This $0.30, well, I'll tell you what it means.

I can go out and buy another can of beans like

all the beans, man, beans.

There ain't no ham hocks,

no pork chops and chicken and everything

'cause my family can't afford it, brother.

Well, what do you eat, mostly?

I mean, do you really eat that old soul food?

I mean, do you like it? Soul food?

What you mean, soul food? What you talking about, Jones?

[ Laughter ] Pork and all that kind of stuff.

Pork? Unh-unh.

All: No pork. No?

But no pork, huh?

All right. Okay.

I'm gonna give you $0.30.

Put down with this man! This man gave me $0.30!

[ Indistinct chatter ]

All right. Go ahead.

This is my brother here.

He didn't want to give it up, did he?

He didn't want to give it up!

Because of your statement that I had to be a true brother

because I think the guys know me.

Well, I don't even know you.

What's your name? My name is William.

What's yours? My name is Orville.

Orville, you work for the police department, don't you, brother?

No, I don't work for police. Juvenile?

I work for Youth for Service.

Youth for Service. That's juvenile.

Brother, I ain't got no suit on like he do, do you?

[ Laughter ]

Look at your shoes and look at his shoes!

This man [Speaks indistinctly].

He gave me $35.

Know what you was talking about.

The people -- we not gonna get nothing,

not by sitting around here

doing these silly demonstrations or nothing.

People not gonna do anything.

Baldwin: Well, how are we gonna do it? Huh?

By violence, violence...

by uprising, having a revolution.

But there are 20 million of us.

20 million -- that's enough.

Not these days and not in those terms.

Oh, it's enough.

They're scattered, 48 states.

48 states -- get them together.

How? How?

Through Islam... What?

...the true religion, you know? Get all the people together.

Get all of them to believe in one thing,

and then they can't help but stick together.

I mean, we can't stick together now, half of us Christian,

the other half Baptist, you know, some Jew and all that.

Now what good is that gonna do us?

Catholic. Mm-hmm.

So you think the only thing we can do...

Is get together. have an armed uprising?


Just put blood, you know?

Let everybody bleed a little bit.

That's the only way we're gonna get anything.

What happened to the people in Birmingham?

Well, Birmingham isn't over yet.

It's over.

Oh, yeah. It's over.

It's over.

They done sent in the state trooper, the federal.

It's all over now.

People -- they had a little old, you know --

little old show Sunday night and all.

That was the only thing they did.

When they was marching around in them thousands and thousands,

wasn't nothing happening.

They got mad Sunday, jumped on a few of them,

sent a few of them to the hospital.

Then what happened?

They said, "We gonna give you what you want," huh?


That ain't nothing.

Ain't gonna get nothing.

Now the Negro teenager doesn't have any possibility --

as we sit here now, I mean,

as of this moment, this is not historical --

does not have any possibility of accepting American,

which is to say there's no way of learning it

because it has not been and it is not being taught.

There is no possibility for him to begin to act on

what we always think of as the American assumptions,

you know -- man is a man for all that and all that jazz.

It isn't that he wouldn't.

It's because there's no possibility of his doing so

because the country intends to keep him in his place

and still does, so the only way a Negro teenager

can make it is to step outside that system,

you know, to become an effective criminal on whatever level --

no, to become an operator, you know, like,

where he can make it, or to turn to Malcolm X.

They trying to tear down our homes, brother.

When the white man try to tear down your home,

then it's time for you to do something, but what can we do?

We don't know anything about what's going on.

I mean, we try to go to the meetings and things like that.

We watch the television.

We watch all this about Birmingham down there.

Just like Malcolm X said yesterday on television,

he said, "The white man, he talk about truce,"

and this man, Mr. King, he down there talking about,

"Yeah, can we get some kind of cooperation?

Can we get some kind of truce down there?"

Or what are they doing down there?

They're not doing anything.

See, I'm calling him a chump just like Malcolm X calls him.

He's a chump, and I think a black Moslem

is right in some of his doings,

and I think that a truce down there is impossible.

It's utterly impossible.

It's fantastic, and it's unbelievable!

[ Indistinct chatter ]

And I'll tell you this, too.

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Wait, wait. Let me tell you.

Now, they was talking about better jobs, jobs out here.

You want me tell you what kind of job they gonna give us?

They gonna let us tear down our own homes out here

at Hunters Point.

That's the job we getting,

and you know what they're gonna pay us?

Let me tell you what they gonna pay us.

They gonna pay you $2 an hour.

They gonna holler some kind of apprenticeship deal

or something like that.

I mean, what else is that gaining you?

It's not gaining you a thing. You out there slaving.

You won't get anything.

[ Indistinct chatter ]

They'll help you tear down your own homes.

It's a job temporarily, and then what you gonna do?

Where you gonna live?

You're not gonna live anywhere.

They're not even in the process of trying to tell you

where you gonna live.

All they talking about is tearing down Hunters Point.

How long you been in San Francisco?

Well, I've been in San Francisco about 18 years,

ever since I was about a year or 2 old.

And you live around here, too?


[ Indistinct chatter ]

Are you in temporary housing?

Nah, I stay in the projects.

Woman: That's a temporary housing.

There ain't no temporary housing no more.

They tearing them down.

But you stay in a temporary house, not a permanent house?

I ain't no more.

There ain't gonna be no place when they get through.

We gonna be living out on the streets.

[ Indistinct chatter ]

Does it make you feel bad?

Yeah, it make you feel bad. Won't be no place to go.

We'll be living out here on the streets in tents.

And where would you like to go if you could go?

What part of San Francisco would you like to --

I'd stay up here on top of the hill.

You would?

How long you been living on top of the hill?

Ever since I've been born.

I got beaten up, baby, at people's parties...

Mm-hmm. ...where they invited me.

I was at a party, for example, of the opening

of the Black Club, and a brother was there,

and the blacks [Speaks indistinctly], you know.

The people who produced it would be what we call liberal.


But there was a girl at the party

who was flirting with my brother.

She looked like Brunhilda, and this upset the host,

who was drunk, and what happened was that it was a big party,

and I was -- you know, David was on the other side of

the room with this big blond chick, you know.

So what, you know?

Who cares, you know?

And then David came over to me and said that he was going,

and I knew he wasn't going because he wanted to,

and I could tell -- you know, he was my brother, after all.

Something was the matter, and the host came over then

and said that he asked my brother to leave,

and I said, "Why?"

And he said he wouldn't tell me, and I said,

"You're not gonna throw my brother out

unless you throw me out, and you're not gonna throw me out

until you tell me why," and we had a fist fight.

We had a fist fight.


This is Jack Tar Hotel? Yes.

Dear God. What is it?

I can't imagine what it's made out of.

Now we're turning onto Van Ness Road.

That's where all the cars are sold

and everything else, and this is the...

What was that?

The St. Mary's Cathedral.

This bombed building here... Yeah.

Well, I mean, not bombed, but, I mean, it's...

Well, it looks pretty bombed.

That was a fire, but this is gonna be torn down,

but this will not be the site of the cathedral.

They're trying to change it.

Really is horrible to look at.

Oh, yeah. This was started one night.

They had a -- Some of the kids

were having a dance in the downstairs basement.

Yeah. Didn't take it very long.

It was -- gutted the whole thing,

but as a result, the Catholic Church

was able to raise $15 million to build another cathedral.

Some people know how to make it, you know?

And they did it in 9 months, you know?

Wow. They did it in 9 months.


Organized religion can be said to play any role.

It's played a role very much like -- I mean this.

It's played a role very much like that of Ross Barnett.

Now, I know they think they haven't.

I know they think they're Christians,

and I know they're not...

because I know I was raised Christian, you know?

My daddy and my mama were very religious, and they knew.

Man: Gonna be about an hour, hour and a half.

They knew that white Christians were not Christians

because of the way they treated black people,

and the Christian church in this country

has never -- in my experience,

never, as far as I know, been Christian.

The record is much more than shameful.

The record proves that as we stand here as of this moment,

Christian church is bankrupt.

There's not a single person I could turn to

if I were trying to deal with one of those boys

you were talking to yesterday.

If I tried to tell them to go to church

or even suggested the name of Jesus Christ,

he'd spit in my face.

It's not because he doesn't like my face.

It's because of what white Christians have done and do

and now deny.

All these churches are absolutely meaningless.

They're almost blasphemous.

If they don't mean it, they should, you know,

they should say so!

Christianity has become a kind of social club.

You have to have a membership card to get in,

and black people can't have a membership card.

[ Car horn honks ]

Actually, Christianity at the moment

looks rather like that church -- well, that shell. [ Chuckles ]

The God shop -- I mean, what --

Oh, the God shops?

I think the God shops -- I know the God shops are there

to be sold a whole lot of desperate people.

What we can here call the failure of Christianity,

really, you know?

People in the God shops are there

'cause it gives them the only --

It's only one of the few places they can go

to find any way of getting through their day,

given the landlord and the pawnbroker and the children

and the whole powerful complex of forces

which bear you down every day, when you can no longer accept

this whole notion of Heaven later

and a concentration camp here.

One of the Christian things about being an American Negro

is that one has always looked at the man

because you had to look at him.

There was no one else to look at,

and he had the power, the gun, Bible, all of that, you know?

And one had to find out who he was in order to keep alive.

What's happened by this time is that we know who he is,

speaking now only as a Negro,

and what's happened to the master

and the descendants of the master

is he never had to look at all.

He has seen that I was only there to give him a cigar

and to make him --

and to cheer him up when he didn't feel too well.

He suddenly discovered that that wasn't my role at all.

Baldwin: I imagine it'd be easy for any white person

walking through San Francisco to imagine

that everything was at peace

because it certainly looks that way,

you know, on the surface.

It's much prettier than New York.

It's easier to hide in San Francisco

than it is in New York because you've got the view.

You've got the hills.

You've got the San Francisco legend, too,

which is that it's cosmopolitan and forward-looking,

where it's just another American city,

and if you're a black man,

that means it's a really bitter thing to say.

Children are dying here as they are in New York

for the very same reason.

They see a somewhat better place to lie about,

which is all it comes to.

Nobody wants to destroy the image of San Francisco.

Because the Negro has, in fact, an ill effect.

Yes, well, there's a few Caucasians

staying here, you know?


I know a lot about housing projects in New York,

but I'm sure this has a different aura.

Uh-huh, houses there have some of the same problems,

although the building, the exterior looks...

Well, the exterior looks marvelous.

It's the whole point. Yes.

But I know what goes on inside.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

I'm sure that in the housing projects --

I know the housing projects in New York,

the kids despise them, you know?

Better housing in the ghetto is simply not possible.

You can create --

You can build a few better plans,

but you cannot do anything about the moral

and psychological effects of being in the ghetto.

This is the point.

Everybody living in those housing projects

is just as in danger as ever before

by all the things the ghetto means.

If I were raising a kid in one of those housing projects,

I would still have at the front door,

or probably right next door in the housing project...

all the things that I was trying to escape,

and I mean even from such things

as dealing with insurance companies

if I want fire insurance, you know,

to the fact that in the playground,

my boy and my girl will be exposed to the man

who sells narcotics, for example,

to a million forces which are inevitably set in motion

when a people are despised, and you can't pretend

that you're not despised if you are.

You were saying yesterday that children can't be fooled.

Well, I can be fooled, you know,

and be glad about, you know, having a --

whatever it is, you know,

razzmatazz, terrazzo,

a garage, but my kid won't be...

because my kids are being destroyed

for these fantastic apartments.

There's a big Sears store now.

We had one big fight here at one time.

Two hired Negroes were there,

hired a few in the sales department and so forth.

I'm sure they're very proud of it, the old city.

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

Now they can look down upon all of the lesser additions,

Kaiser Hospital and other large buildings that are going up

so that you can see you're in high-rise apartments

and everything else that is taking place.

And this area is only...

very good transportation in this area.

Beautiful weather, too, James, some of the best.

My God.

Terraces, too. Oh, yes.

I'm always struck by a certain blankness in American faces.

You're always?

I'm always struck by a certain blankness in American faces

and blank...

Everyone's blank and suspicious.

It's hard to describe, exactly.

I always see it as something to do with Negro,

something to do with...

their pretense Negroes don't exist.

This is a development here that pretty...

Now, this is ILW housing project,

which will be interracial.

I will say this.

People who are renting it now, 70 percent are Caucasian,

30 percent Negro. Mm-hmm.

It's not completed, but they are taking

a real good account of itself.

I mean, they are trying to make sure...


...that above that will be the Ikra homes and so forth,

which Ikra has always let Negroes buy

if they have the money, although their apartments,

I mean, their houses cost, say from $22,000 up to $32,000,

so imagine this automatically...

Yeah, eliminates, yeah. ...eliminates a lot of people.

I conclude -- correct me if I'm wrong,

but all of this has something to do with money.

The land has been reclaimed for money

and that the people are putting up their houses

so they can make a profit, but it seems to me --

I'm not attacking what's called the profit motive.

There are some things more important than profits.

And New York City has been

turned into a desert, really, for the same reason,

and it's happening in San Francisco now.

The society made the assumption

and certainly acts on the assumption

that to make money is more important than to have citizens.

We're paying to our tithes for this,

and it isn't only what it's doing to Negro children,

which is, God knows, bad enough.

It's what it does to white children

who grow up believing that it is more important

to make a profit than it is to be a man,

and that's where society really operates.

I don't care what society says.

This is where it operates, and these are the goals it sets,

and these goals aren't worthy of a man,

and adolescents know it.

Orville: Oh, are you working out here?

No, I'm not.

Well, what has been something of a problem

that you've faced as a Negro in San Francisco?

Well, my main problem is finding a job.

Yesterday, I talked a guy, a white fellow

that worked at a filling station.

He'd been out of service too much,

and they've got two jobs.

I've been here eight years,

and I work about three steady jobs...

and I'm looking every day.

It's like he said he started out.

He looked maybe once or twice a day.

He worked at a filling station, and he worked longshoreman work,

and he told me from his own mouth who was on top.

He wouldn't come out and say it just like I'm gonna say it,

but he come out and told me that you've got to know

somebody in San Francisco to get somewhere,

and if I know somebody, it's got to be somebody with authority,

and nobody in San Francisco, no colored man got no authority.

And, I mean, no, there are no Negro leaders

in San Francisco that you feel --

Well, there are a few.

There are a few. Do you know any?

No, I don't know know any, but the ones who get up there,

and once they get up there, they don't want to help nobody.

So no one has ever helped you?

No, nobody with authority beside my parole officer.

Well, even the least-damaged of those kids would have to...

to put it as mildly as it can be put at the moment,

would have to be a little sardonic,

a little sardonic about the things he sees on television

and what the president says

and all those movies about being a good American

and all that jazz, and you look at this,

look over there and look up here.

And they would despise people, you know,

who are able to have such a tremendous gap

between their performance and their profession,

but the more damaged kids seem to feel like blowing it up,

seem to feel like blowing it up.

Speaking only for myself,

you know, I feel a little sardonic.

I'm civilized, I think, but there's a time in my life

when I would have felt just like blowing it up.

What's more crucial, what's more terrible

is how these ones remain left alone in terms of any help

you can get from the country in this effort.

How do you get through to these damaged kids?

And I don't know what I could say which would make any sense

to them because, in fact, this does not make any sense.

Now, with all of these beautiful buildings,

now they're going to be wringed in

by hostile people just like...

That's right... ...we have in New York.

...hostile and frightened people... That's right.

...because they walk down the street and wonder

why the first Negro boy they see looks at them

as though he wants to kill them, and if he gets a chance, tries,

and it's because he can't go to Asia.

You know? It's because he can't --

there's no -- He has no ground to stand here.

The cat said yesterday, "I got no country.

I got no flag,"

and it isn't because he was born paranoid that he said that.

It's because of the performance of the country

for his 18 years on Earth has proven that to him.

Now, how one manages to make these people,

these blind people begin to see,

but I'll tell you something about that building.

It has absolutely no foundation,

and it really does not have any foundation,

and it's going to come down one way or another.

Either we will correct what's wrong,

or it will be corrected for us.

Oh, God.

Baldwin: It's the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church.


This is one of the real little God shops.

When you've always saw that Negroes and churches

singing and dancing and praying,

maybe they were really quite single-minded

and happier than, like, you know, the white people.

What goes on in those little God shops?

You know, it's exactly the same thing

that's going on down in the Muslim temples,

but no one has ever made that connection.

They wanted to think that you're happy,

and so they did think we were happy, all designed to prove,

you know, how Christian and simple-minded

and how uncomplicated Negroes are

and how complicated --

Now, here's one of the...

Shabazz is one of the restaurants in San Francisco.

Mm-hmm. You see that this is....

This could be called a kind of logical evolution...

Yes, and here you can badly...

...of the church.

Mohammed speaks here, too.

A lot of times they saw them all up and down

the street here on the corners.

This corner here, they had them at Turk,

and also at Fillmore and Sutter

is one of our favorite spots that they sell the paper.

It's kind of an answer to the real attitude toward Negroes

as exemplified, still, by the press, you know?

And something else that's very curious about it is the...

there's something very sad and sinister about it, too,

but for some things, things relating to Negroes,

you're to buy Mohammed speaks on account of what's happening

because the white press doesn't want to know,

and it still is built on the curious theory

that if you don't see it, it ain't happening.

Can always just forget about it.

Yeah, why not -- you know, you might --

You need to just -- the publishers --

You know, as a writer of a magazine,

I did a special, and they said it wasn't true.

They said, "It's not for our readers."

That seems to make perfect sense to them.

Doesn't make any sense at all to me.

You know? I mean, what do they --

why do they -- What are they in business for?

Well, that's the way that goes.

Well, over to our left now is the old Fillmore Theater

that's abandoned now, and...

Oh, it should really say, "We just hope to sell

to some Negro pastor"...

That's right. ..."for a church."

Settling down for the church.

You think they would sell it to Malcolm for a mosque?

I suppose they would.

Oh, yes.

And where would they get the money?

And here is another one of the famous hickory pits

where more soul food is sold, and there's a vacant building,

and off to our left here is one Negro hotel that's on --

The only Negro hotel here? Yes.

It's called the Booker T. Washington.

Yes. Naturally.

[ Laughs ]

This is a street that all Negroes are born on.

You know? The street all Negroes have to survive.

Nobody walks to the Baptist church and hand them off.

[ Laughs ] Mm-hmm.

There's really a great history, you know, great thing

to be summed up in that if one could.

Looking at this beat now, the Booker T. Washington hotel,

I mean, what comes to your mind about some type of music

or some passage from the Bible that describes this?

Baldwin: "Sing the Lord's song in a strange land"?

I don't know. I don't know.

I'm sure those cats across the street can dance,

like, you know, their white counterparts can,

and the reason they can is because, in a way, they must.

It's got to come out somehow. It's got to come out somehow.

You know?

And the pressure is great,

and events come out in a certain kind of...

Negroes have great style.

I think this is true, even if it sounds chauvinistic,

and white people don't have much style,

and one of the reasons that Negroes have a certain style

is because they are aware of the conditions of their lives.

They can't fool themselves about it, you know?

And when a Negro laughs or tries to make love or eats or dances,

it's not a total action.

I don't mean this the way white liberals

are really gonna think I mean it.

I don't mean they're more sensual, more primitive,

more spontaneous, and all this ethnic jazz.

I mean they live on another level of experience

which doesn't allow them as much room

to make-believe as white people have.

♪ You'll be my lover ♪

♪ There's no one above ya ♪

♪ I want everyone to know ♪

♪ You looked okay ♪

Every American black man knows that there's something

that American white men...

are in the grip of some extraordinary sexual paranoia,

and they really are.

What that comes from is probably a story for some other --

you know, some other time and place.

In any case, it's a long and terrible story

and so complicated that we couldn't begin to discuss it

except by examining, like, you know, such things --

Well, re-read "Huckleberry Finn."

Re-read William Faulkner.

The rage between black and white men in this country

has always been the most extraordinary,

and once there's any real in it, terrifying invention,

and it goes all the way back from the first time

that any American saw it in writing,

and it had something to do with the Indian.

If one could crack that nut, really, open that can of beans,

and one could try to find out --

and this is something white people have to do,

Negroes can't do it -- exactly what Negro means to a white man,

not only what he means in terms of signing petitions

and, you know, marching with picket signs and all that jazz.

I mean what he really means.

You know? Why are you afraid of him?

That's what it comes to.

You want to begin to examine that.

When white men begin to be able to deal

with what is really a quite simple matter,

relatively speaking -- better to say

if one can examine that, then the conundrum

of the housing situation in San Francisco

would not be a conundrum because it is based on that,

and all the lies that Americans tell themselves,

all the evasions that they give themselves

are based in some fantastic escape partly from Europe

and then from the Indian and now, spectacularly, from me.

It's insane.

By the time I was 12 years old, in spite of everything else,

I knew that I was not a monkey.

No, I knew I was not one of the lower animals.

I knew that if I wasn't any of those things,

then obviously I was a man, and all white men have known this,

about all black men, ever since they've ever seen a black man.

The lies and the ignorance of it --

you can't be ignorant of it.

That means that if for 100 years,

a country has lied about what a man is,

and the bill has come in because as it turns out,

you have not succeeded in making me less of a man,

but you made yourself less of a man.

What did you mean?

You meant something about the white liberal.

I don't think the white liberal,

although he feels that he's been quite close to us,

I don't think that he even has been able to understand this

and especially this idea of about the same thing

that's been going on

in the Muslim movement with your small church.

I don't even think that he, although he --

I don't think --

He's felt he's been real close.

I don't think he's even suspected it...


...because, well, white liberals think

of themselves as missionaries.

I had a kind of fight once with a very well-known white liberal,

and I said in the course of our conversations

something about Mr. Charlie.

This man has been around for a long, long time,

and he said, "Who's Mr. Charlie?"

and I was shocked that he didn't know.

You know?

And I told him who Mr. Charlie was.

I said, "You're Mr. Charlie. All white men are Mr. Charlie,"

but liberals have protected themselves

against this level of experience

because their principal motive so far has been,

as far as I can tell, a kind of alleviation

or protection of their own consciences.

They want to do something to help Negroes

because it makes them feel better,

but the prices they paid for this kind of effort

is that they never discovered who a Negro is --

not what but who.

Only a liberal, for example,

could write the script of the defiant ones.

No Negro could, no.

Only a liberal can be offended as John Fisher

at "Harper's Magazine" was offended when, you know,

when Negroes make some unmistakable indication

that they're going to -- because they don't want anymore.

This is the record, you see.

They really think that somehow the record

of Negro people's survival in this country

is something on which they can congratulate themselves,

and they don't know that for every one man who survived,

20 perished and that whatever the Negro has managed to do here

was done against the tremendous opposition

of the power structure.

I don't mean there weren't some white people who managed,

you know, but in the generality, this is the way it's been.

In other words --

When it's fought very hard for what everyone has done.

Well, Jimmy, do you ever feel that the white people

will ever become a foot soldier with us?

I mean, he's been always at the side,

I mean, giving up some information

and fighting and this and that,

but do you feel that he'll become a foot soldier

with us in this struggle, in this battle?

Well, I like to feel that he would become a foot solider,

but there's no evidence so far.

He cannot become a foot soldier

until he's willing to give up all of those preoccupations

which allow him to think that he's saving us,

and until he's willing to do something even harder,

just realize that if he's going to do it,

he's not doing it for me or for you or for Negroes.

He's doing it for himself. For himself.

And that it if means enough to him,

then he has to be prepared to risk everything he has,

from his status to his child

because that's what we have to do.

And a lot of times --

do you feel that the white men, a lot of times,

that when things get real tough, that he can escape?

I mean, he can revert back tomorrow.

Oh, and the white liberals, when things gets tough,

the white woman, the white woman that I told you a few weeks ago,

she had had the bad luck to be sitting in the same room

with about 20 students who were, you know, telling it like it is.

Sterling Brown was there,

and she was one of the few white liberals in the room,

and what these kids were saying in effect was,

you know, "White people don't know enough

about us to be able to help us, you know?

White people say one thing and do another,"

and all of it was absolutely true,

and she was terribly, terribly hurt, bitterly hurt,

and she said, "I'm sure I've done more for Negroes

than they've ever done," and I got mad,

and I said, "That's not even what they were saying.

They don't want you to do anything for Negroes, you know?

They want you to do it for you,"

and she said, "Well, I'm not willing to damage my child,"

she said, and I said, "Well, then forget it.

That is what it comes to." [ Laughs ]

After all, speaking for myself, you know, it's a kind of insult.

Here I am, you know, with, as they say, no visible scars.

I'm not isolated.

I've got a family, you know,

and a history, and I got nieces and nephews.

Mm-hmm. I can't protect them.

You know? Mm-hmm.

They're in tremendous danger every hour that they live

just because they're black, not because they're wicked, no,

and I mean this from the baby niece to the oldest nephew,

who's only 16.

Now, if this is the way they are, you know?

And I know that every time I leave my nephew,

I don't know what'll happen to him by the time I see him again.

I mean not only inside but physically.


How can you expect me to take seriously somebody who says,

"I'm willing to fight for you, but, you know,

I can't afford to let my children be damaged,"

and furthermore, how can I take seriously somebody

who doesn't realize that children are being damaged

by this, by the continuation of this system?

You know, you can't serve, as they say, two masters,

and, you know, the liberal can't be safe and heroic, too.

In other words, they want to become full safety.

He gets behind the safety zone.

Yes, that's right. That's right.

He's with you but not when the going gets rough,

and, really, what I really mean about him is that he doesn't --

If you can put it -- think of it in those senses,

then you don't see the gravity of the situation.

You don't see that we are living in a segregated society,

and this does terrible things in my child

and does terrible things to your child, too.

If you don't see that, then I don't think you'd see anything,

and most liberals do not see that.

One of the great American illusions,

one of the great American necessities

is to believe that I, a poor benighted black man

whom they saved...

elephant-ridden jungles of Africa

and to whom they brought the Bible...

is still grateful for that,

and people say in many, many ways not only in the South,

all over this country,

in effect, you should be grateful -- even slavery.

I released you from that.

You're no longer dodging tsetse flies in some backward country.

Well, I know this.

Anyone who's ever tried to live knows this,

that what you say about somebody else,

you know, anybody else, reveals you.

What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessity,

my own psychology, my own fears, anxieties.

I'm gonna describe to you.

I talk about you describing me.

Now, here in this country,

you've got something called a nigger,

who doesn't in such terms, I beg you to remark,

exist in any other country in the world.

We have invented the nigger.

I didn't invent him.

White people invented him.

I've always known.

I had to know by the time I was 17 years old...

what you were describing was not me,

and what you were afraid of was not me.

It had to be something else.

You had invented it,

so it had to be something you were afraid of.

You invested me with it.

Now that, sir...

no matter what you've done to me,

I can say to you this, and I mean it.

I know you can't do any more, and I've got nothing to lose,

and I know, and I've always known, no, and really always.

That's part of the agony.

I've always known that I'm not a nigger.

But if I am not the nigger...

and if it's true that your invention reveals you,

then who is the nigger?

I am not the victim here.

I know one thing from another.

and I know I was born -- you know,

I was born, I'm gonna suffer, and I'm gonna die.

And the only way you get through life is knowing

the worst things about it.

I know that appearance is more important than anything else,

anything else.

I learned this because I have had to learn it,

but you still think, I gather, that the nigger is necessary?

Well, he's not necessary to me, so he must be necessary to you,

and I give you your problem back.

You're the nigger, baby. He isn't me.


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