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TitleThe Fire Next Time
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Total Pages116
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Page 2

the complete text of James Baldwin's
explosive article that appeared in
The New Yorker of 17th November
19fr2. It also contains a letter to his
nephew on the 1 ooth anniversary of
the emancipation of slaves in America.

The book is a plea and a warning
-a plea that all Americans should
look to the true state of their land-
a warning of what may happen if
they do not.

'James Baldwin is one of the best
writers (certainly essayists) writ-
ing in America today. Baldwin's
style is no less remarkable than
his theme. It is deliberate and
dramatic. It is a highly disturbing
and painful comment on a nation
that a man of Baldwin's sensibility
and talent should feel and think
as he does. The Fire Next Time is
an extraordinary human document
- a classic'.

Page 58

more, though the person is usually unaware of it (is
unaware of so much), are historical and public atti-
tudes. They do not relate to the present any more than
they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white
people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely
and inexorably, what they do not know about them-

White Christians have also forgotten several ele-
mentary historical details. They have forgotten that
the religion that is now identified with their virtue and
their power-"God is on our side," says Dr. Verwoerd
-came out of a rocky piece of ground in what is now
known as the Middle East before colour was invented,
and that in order for the Christian church to be estab-
lished, Christ had to be put to death, by Rome, and
that the real architect of the ChriStian church was not
the disreputable, sun-baked Hebrew who gave it his
name but the mercilessly fanatical and self-righteous
St. Paul. The energy that was buried with the rise of
the Christian nations must come back into the world;
nothing can prevent it. Many of us, I think, both long
to. ·see this happen and are terrified of it, for though
this transformation contains the hope of liberation, it
also imposes a necessity for great change. But in order
to deal with the untapped and dormant force of the
previously subjugated, in order to survive as a human,
moving, moral weight in the world, America and all


Page 59

the Western nations will be forced to re-examine them-
selves and release themselves from many things that
are now taken to be sacred, and to discard nearly all
the assumptions that have been used to justify their
lives and their anguish and their crimes so long.

"The white man's Heaven," sings a Black Muslim
minister, "is the black man's Hell." One may object-
possibly-that this puts the matter somewhat too
simply, but the song is true, and it has been true for
as long as white men have ruled the world. The Africans
put it another way : When the white man came to
Africa, the white man had the Bible and the African
had the land, but now it is the white man who is being,
reluctantly and bloodily, separated from the land,
and the African who is still attempting to digest or to
vomit up the Bible. The struggle, therefore, that now
begins in the world is extremely complex, involving the
historical role of Christianity in the realm of power-
that is, politics-and in the realm of morals. In the
realm of power, Christianity has operated with an un-
mitigated arrogance and cruelty-necessarily, since a
religion ordinarily imposes on those who have dis-
covered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating
the infidels. This particular true faith, moreover, is
more deeply concerned about the soul than it is about
the body, to which fact the flesh (and the corpses) of
countless infidels bears witness. It goes without saying,


Page 115

has not been able to make it yet. And at the centre of
this dreadful storm, this vast confusion, stand the black
people of this nation, who must now share the fate of
a nation that has never accepted them, to which they
were brought in chains. Well, if this is so, one has no
choice but to do all in one's power to change that fate,
and at no matter what risk-eviction, imprisonment,
torture, death. For the sake of one's children, in order
to minimize the bill that they must pay, one must be
careful not to take refuge in any delusion-and the
value placed on the colour of the skin is always and
everywhere and for ever. a delusion. I know that what
I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every
time, the impossible is the least that one can demand-
and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of
human history in general, and American Negro history
in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the
perpetual achievement of the impossible.

When I was very young, and was dealing with my
buddies in those wine- and urine-stained hallways,
something in me wondered, What will happen to all
that beauty? For black people, though I am aware that
some of us, black and white, do not know it yet, are
very beautiful. And when I sat at Elijah's table and
watched the baby, the women, and the men, and we
talked about God's--or Allah's-vengeance, I won-
dered, when that vengeance was achieved, What will


Page 116

happen to all that beauty then? I could also see that
the intransigence and ignorance of the white world
might make that vengeance inevitable-a vengeance
that does not really depend on, and cannot really be
executed by, any person or organization, and that can-
not be prevented by any police force or army : histori-
cal vengeance, a cosmic vengeance, based on the law
that we recognize when we say, "Whatever goes up
must come down." And here we are, at the centre of
the arc, trapped in the gaudiest, most valuable, and
most improbable water wheel the world has ever seen.
Everything now, we must ~ume, is in our hands; we
have no right to assume otherwise. If we-and now I
mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively
conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or
create, the consciousness of the others--do not falter
in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are,
to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country,
and change the history of the world. If we do not now
dare everything, the fulfilment of that prophecy, re-
created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us :
God gave Noah the rainbow, No more water, the
fire next time!


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