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James Baldwin
1924 - 1987

Civil rights and gay activist, writer, playwright, author of Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), Notes of a Native Son (1955) and other works


Confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one's beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses.

Freedom is not something that anybody can be given; freedom is something people take and people are as free as they want to be.

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.

1961 - from Nobody Knows My Name
Any honest examination of the national life proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom with which we began. The recovery of this standard demands of everyone who loves this country a hard look at himself, for the greatest achievements must begin somewhere, and they always begin with the person. If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations.

It is very nearly impossible... to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.

Words like 'freedom,' 'justice,' 'democracy' are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous and, above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.

Jul. 7, 1956 - from "The Crusade of Indignation," published in The Nation
It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.

We have all had the experience of finding that our reactions and perhaps even our deeds have denied beliefs we thought were ours.

Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.