Wednesday, January 8, 2014
James Baldwin to his nephew
LETTER BY JAMES BALDWIN TO HIS YOUNG NEPHEW
This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. ... It is their innocence which constitutes the crime. ... This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. .. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them
safe are losing their grasp on reality. But those men are your Brothers-your lost, younger Brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means; that we, with love, shall force our Brothers
to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men and women have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what it must become. It will be hard, but you
come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and damned 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 since Homer. One of them said, "The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off. ... We
can not be free till they are free! God bless you, and Godspeed!