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The Fire Next Time opens with a six to seven page dedicatory letter to his nephew and namesake James, entitled

in short "On the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation." Baldwin advises his nephew on how to deal

with the racist world in which he was born. In spite the horrors of America, Baldwin believed the Negro must

take the high road and show whites, in their ignorance and innocence, how to live the good life, how to love. 

 

 

Books by and about James Baldwin

Carol E. Henderson, James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain: Historical And Critical Essays. Peter Lang Publishing, 2006.

 Go Tell It on the Mountain / The Fire Next Time /  Notes of a Native Son /   Giovanni's Room

If Beale Street Could Talk  /  Conversations with James Baldwin   /  Early Novels and Stories

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The Fire Next Time 

James Baldwin 1963 Civil Rights Manifesto

 

James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963) sometimes referred to as his "eloquent manifesto", which  he hoped would avert  racial conflagration, appeared first in The New Yorker (1962), a journal which Ishmael Reed described as the "epitome of uptown pretensions and snobbery," as "Letter from a Region in my Mind." Though Baldwin received some heat for his choice of publication, his massive essay caused an immediate sensation and was quickly published in book form. Some believe Baldwin's book spurred and help to "galvanize" the civil rights movement which resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Fire Next Time opens with a six to seven page dedicatory letter to his nephew and namesake James, entitled in short "On the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation." Baldwin advises his nephew on how to deal with the racist world in which he was born. In spite the horrors of America, Baldwin believed the Negro must take the high road and show whites, in their ignorance and innocence, how to live the good life, how to love. 

He concludes  his letter of encouragement with these remarks.

It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity.. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest since Homer. one of them said, The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.

The section comprising the dedicatory letter Baldwin entitled "My Dungeon Shook,"  which we see from the above quote were words of some unknown bard, a former Negro slave, who spoke to the glorious spiritual phenomena of emancipation. 

The section comprising the "Letter from a Region of My Mind," was entitled, "Down at the Cross," again another religious allusion. This long essay has a bipartite structure. In the first part Baldwin recounted his religious experience as a fourteen year old boy, about the age of his nephew, and his view of Christianity as an adult. He sketches out his disappointments with the Negro's religion, which he views primarily as escapist.

He then turned to his second mission, which comprised the greater part of the essay, to trash the Muslim movement among African Americans. Here he attempted to come to the grips with the phenomena of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X. Elijah's brand of Islam viewed Christianity as the white man's wicked rationale for oppressing blacks and that all white people were accursed devils whose sway was destined to end. God is black and his proper address is "Allah" and he has chosen black people of America to end the devil's domination by means of the theology of Islam.

In this long letter, Baldwin also described his audience with Elijah Muhammad, who Baldwin believed was lucid, passionate, and cunning. For Baldwin the problem was  that Elijah preached a dogma of racial hatred that was no better than the reverse of whites' hatred for blacks.  Baldwin rejected Elijah and Malcolm. 

Baldwin believed he had a greater vision than Malcolm and Elijah. He believed that the Negro's suffering was redemptive and that's the Negro's example had curative powers for the nation. Baldwin wrote as part of closing statement --

I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering--enough is certainly as good as a feast--but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his effort, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human life that no school on earth--and, indeed, no church--can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakeable.

At this stage of his development, Baldwin believed the Negro's redeeming love of whites, in their innocence and ignorance, would make the difference. American blacks' complex fate, Baldwin reiterated his well-tuned song, was the rescue, the delivery of white Americans from their imprisonment in myths of racial superiority and educate them into a new, integrated sensitivity and maturity. 

Should such an effort fail, he warned, then the words of a slave song may come true: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign, / No more water, the fire next time!" Many whites believed that this was Baldwin's  last really good piece of nonfiction.

 

Selected Works

Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1953

Notes of a Native Son, 1955

Giovanni's Room, 1956

Nobody Know My Name (, 1962

Another Country, 1962

The Fire Next Time, 1963

Blues for Mister Charlie (a play, produced in 1964)

Going to Meet the Man, 1965

Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone, 1968

A Rap on Race, with Margaret Mead, 1971

If Beale Street Could Talk 1974

The Devil Finds Work, 1976

Just Above My Head, 1979

The Evidence of Things Not Seen, 1985

The Price of the Ticket: Collected Non-Fiction, 1948-1985, 1985

Perspectives: Angles on African Art, 1987

Conversations with James Baldwin, 1989

Early Novels and Stories, 1998

Collected Essays, 1998 (ed. by Toni Morrison)

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 30 September 2007

 

 

 Home  Black Arts and Black Power Figures

Related files: James Baldwin bio  Notes of a Native Son   Sermons & Blues  Fire Last Time  Retrospective on Soul on Ice  Cleaver Bio   Cleaver Speaks to Skip Gates 

Ishmael Reed's Preface  Maxwell Geismar's "Introduction"