The Fire Next Time

by James Baldwin

Paperback, 1992

Publication

Vintage (1992), Edition: Reissue, 128 pages

Description

Sociology. African American Nonfiction. Nonfiction. HTML: At once a powerful evocation of his early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice to both the individual and the body politic, James Baldwin galvanized the nation in the early days of the civil rights movement with his eloquent manifesto. The Fire Next Time stands as one of the essential works of our literature..

User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
My copy of this profound short work is littered with flags but I feel inadequate to the task of writing a "review." Baldwin uses his childhood in Harlem in the 1940s and 50s as the springboard for an essay on the relations between African Americans and white Americans, racism and religion, and the
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fear they both instigate and assuage. He is an optimist at heart and his steady moral compass is clear. But he is also angry and tired. And while left unpersuaded by the Black Muslim perspective of the late 1950s, he seriously questions the assumption that society as constructed by white Americans is inherently desirable.

"I cannot accept the proposition that the four-hundred-year travail of the American Negro should result merely in his attainment of the present level of the American civilization. I am far from convinced that being released from the African witch doctor was worthwhile if I am now - in order to support the moral contradictions and the spiritual aridity of my life - expected to become dependent on the American psychiatrist. It is a bargain I refuse. The only thing white people have that black people need, or should want, is power...."

He questions everything, including the greater validity of the Christian religion. He exposes the propensity of all religions to use their dogma to justify the oppression of others and the obliteration of their cultural foundations. He does this without questioning the good intentions of missionaries or neighbors; rather, his charge is placed at the feet of larger society and powerful nations.

I admit that I was made uncomfortable by Baldwin's assertion that the fear aroused in white Americans by angry and nonconforming black Americans is fundamentally no different and arguably *less justified* than that terror instilled in black Americans through centuries of abduction, slavery, abuse, torture, and murder both individual and mass. His reasoning, though, rang deeply true. I found myself gently nudging myself to read without defensiveness: to acknowledge the privilege and power inherently attributed to me by virtue of being born white, and the vast chasm between my occasional discomfort growing up in the segregated South and the pervasive dread experienced by the Black citizens of our small town (for example). I was at least partly successful. I was probably helped by Baldwin's own compassion and optimism as well as his impeccable reasoning. Remembering that this book was published in 1962:

"In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation -- if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women. To create one nation has proved to be a hideously difficult task; there is certainly no need now to create two, one black and one white. But white men with far more political power than that possessed by the Nation of Islam movement have been advocating exactly this, in effect, for generations. If this sentiment is honored when it falls from the lips of Senator Byrd, then there is no reason it should not be honored when it falls from the lips of Malcolm X. And any Congressional committee willing to investigate the latter must also be willing to investigate the former. They are expressing exactly the same sentiments and represent exactly the same danger. There is absolutely no reason to believe that white people are better equipped to frame the laws by which I am governed than I am. It is entirely unacceptable that I should have no voice in the political affairs of my own country, for I am not a ward of America; I am one of the first Americans to arrive on these shores."

*The Fire Next Time*, Baldwin's exploration of the notion that "color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality", is remarkable, readable, and poignant. I read a copy obtained from the public library but this is one to have in one's personal library, available to revisit again and again.
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LibraryThing member Paul-the-well-read
Wonderfully written essays on the experience of being Black in America. Baldwin vividly describes the open, continuous, insidious and pernicious racism faced by people of color every day. These essays are lucid, vivid writings that made me admire the tight, wonderful, writing style while being
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disgusted at the bigotry and racism that existed when Baldwin wrote the book and which is no better today.
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LibraryThing member weird_O
James Baldwin's justly respected essays, paired in the 1963 book [The Fire Next Time], are solid foundations for all of the antiracist literature published in the almost 60 years since. To put them briefly, the first is written to Baldwin's nephew "on the 100th Anniversary of the Emancipation" and
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offers him advice on growing up Black in a white world. Ta-Nehisi Coates drew inspiration from it in writing a letter to his own son, a letter published in 2015 as [Between the World and Me].

The longer second essay was the important one for me. It's Baldwin's account of his growth and maturing, dwelling on, first, his embrace and eventual rejection of Christianity and, second, his consideration and rejection of Elijah Mohammed's Nation of Islam. The following passages are among the many I underlined as I read that second essay.

I was forced, reluctantly, to realize that the Bible itself had been written by men, and translated by men out of languages I could not read, and I was already, without quite admitting it to myself, terribly involved with the effort of putting words on paper.: Of course, I had the rebuttal ready; These men had all been operating under divine inspiration. Had they? All of them?

I realized that the Bible had been written by white men. I knew that, according to many Christians, I was a descendant of Ham, who had been cursed, and that I was therefore predestined to be a slave. This had nothing to do with anything I was, or contained, or could become; my fate had been sealed forever, from the beginning of time. And it seemed, indeed, when one looked out over Christen­dom, that this was what Christendom effectively believed.

…[T]he 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.

…[A] civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spine­less.

…[T]he most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose. You do not need ten such men—one will do.

Yet I could have hoped that the Muslim move­ment had been able to inculcate in the demoralized Negro population a truer and more individual sense of its own worth, so that Negroes in the Northern ghettos could begin, in concrete terms, and at what­ever price, to change their situation. But in order to change a situation one has first to see it for what it is: in the present case, to accept the fact, whatever one does with it thereafter, that the Negro has been formed by this nation, for better or for worse, and does not belong to any other—not to Africa, and certainly not to Islam. The paradox—and a fearful paradox it is—is that the American Negro can have no future anywhere, on any continent, as long as he is unwilling to accept his past. To accept one's past—one's history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. [Emphasis mine]

The American Negro is a unique creation; he has no counterpart anywhere, and no predecessors. The Muslims react to this fact by referring to the Negro as "the so-called American Negro" and substituting for the names inherited from slavery the letter "X." It is a fact that every American Negro bears a name that originally be­longed to the white man whose chattel he was. I am called Baldwin because I was either sold by my African tribe or kidnapped out of it into the hands of a white Christian named Baldwin, who forced me to kneel at the foot of the cross. I am, then, both. visibly and legally the descendant of slaves in a white, Protestant country, and this is what it means to be an American Negro, this is who he is— a kidnapped pagan, who was sold like animal and treated like one, who was once defined by the American_Constitution as "three-fifths" of a man, and who, according to the Dred Scott decision, had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. And today, a hundred years after his technical emancipation, he remains—with the possible exception of the American Indian—the most despised creature in his country.

This has everything to do, of course, with the nature of that dream and with the fact that we Americans, of whatever color, do not dare ex­amine it and are far from having made it a reality. There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves. People are not, for example, terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior.

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques,
flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.

Why, for example—especially knowing the family as I do—I should want to marry your sister is a great mystery to me. But your sister and I have every right to marry if we wish to, and no one has the right to stop us. If she cannot raise me to her level, perhaps I can raise her to mine.

There is absolutely no reason to suppose that white people are better equipped to frame the laws by which I am to be governed than I am. It is entirely unacceptable that I should have no voice in the political affairs of my own country, for I am not a ward of America; I am one of the first Americans to arrive on these shores.

This past, the Negro's past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorrow for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect; rage, hatred, and murder, hatred for white men so deep that it often turned against him and his own, and made all love, all trust, all joy impossible—this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful.

The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed that collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world's most direct and virile, that American women are pure. Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents—or, anyway, mothers—know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way…[O]ne felt that if one had had that white man's worldly advantages, one would never have become as bewildered and as joyless and as thoughtlessly cruel as he.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
Just fantastic. "The Fire Next Time" is a marvelous, almost note-perfect examination of race in America. Shockingly relevant, considering that it actually predates most of the judicial and legislative acts that we think of as the fruits of the Civil Rights movement, it's both a reminder of why race
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is the central conundrum that American society faces and an impassioned argument for the radical personhood -- if that's the term -- of black Americans. At one hundred or so pages, you could describe it as a civil rights tract, but that would be to ignore how much time it spends on self-examination. Baldwin analyzes his own history with race, the history of his family and his neighborhood, and, perhaps most importantly, critiques the response of the black church and Elijah Muhammad´s Black Muslim movement to American racism and finds them both wanting. It is, in the barest political terms, an argument in favor of integration as seen not from the white but from the black side of the issue, and, as such, a plea for a sort of forgiveness and rapprochement. This sort of literary self-portraiture is, in itself, an act of bravery, and the fact that Baldwin carries it off with a remarkable degree of precision and self-assurance is nothing short of astounding. You could argue that "The Fire Next Time" is a message to black Americans, and it is, but it's also a critique of American life: Baldwin seems very conscious of the assumptions and comforts that white Americans will have to give up in order for true integration to take place, and of what black Americans have contribute to American life. It's a book, in a sense, about the difficulty of healing deep-rooted psychic wounds, and its scope is so vast that it could be said to encompass the whole of American society. Baldwin's guiding principle, throughout the entire thing, isn't anger but love, and the necessity of love. Love for one's self, for one's fellow Americans, and for the commitment to survive and to make oneself an individual in the truest sense. I don't usually say this, but especially today, when some very dissatisfied people are about to make a crypto-racist blowhard the presidential nominee of a major political party, this is a book that every American would do well to read.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Baldwin's discussion of race in America is telling and evocative, worth reading even now. It is worth time not only because of his passionate voice and intelligent look at the world around him in civil rights-era America, but for the reflection it gives of the world we still live in. In showing
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readers his own prejudices, he does his best to break down their own, effectively illuminating pieces of history that might more easily be left to be forgotten or ignored, but which inevitably affect the identities we work every day to form and preserve. This book is both dated and contemporary in various ways, but it is without a doubt worth a contemporary reader's time. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member bibliovermis
James Baldwin should be required reading in all American high schools.
LibraryThing member Othemts
This pair of essays published in 1963 discusses racial relations in the United States at the time and remains depressingly relevant in the present day. Baldwin, in a letter to his 14-year-old nephew, describes what it means to be black in America with unrestrained anger and compassion. The essays
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also examine the ineffectiveness of religion in dealing with these problems and his disillusionment with Christianity. Baldwin's analysis of America's problems - among both white and black people - is unrelenting, but he does offers some hope that people can eschew their narrow beliefs.

Favorite Passages:
“You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. 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. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying "You exaggerate." They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one's word for anything, including mine- but trust your experience. Know whence you came.”
"I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be "accepted" by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don't wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed."

“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.”
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LibraryThing member quiBee
There were two essays in this book. The first one is a "letter" that Baldwin writes to his nephew about what life will do to him as he grows up as an African American male. The second is a searing essay about life in America between African Americans and whites, his growing up in Harlem, his
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reaction to religion and makes for very uncomfortable reading.
Eloquent, intelligent, insightful writing--and unfortunately very pertinent for today as well.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Why read my review when you could read James Baldwin - as persuasive as a cool preacher, an incredible writer and thinker, and a true inspiration. Every one of the 106 words carves its way into one's conscience.

Quotes:

"Your countrymen have caused you to be born under conditions not very far
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removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago."

"The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you."

"...except that they knew it was "the man" - the white man. And there seemed to be no way whatever to remove this cloud that stood between them and the sun, between them and love and life and power, between them and whatever it was that they wanted."

"The principles [of the churches in which I grew up] were Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principal necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others. I would love to believe that the principals were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world."

"From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms."

"What the Negro has discovered, and on an international level, is that power to intimidate which he has always had privately-for private ends often, for limited ends only."

"In any event, the sloppy and fatuous nature of American goodwill can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems."

"We should certainly know by now that it is one thing to overthrow a dictator or repel an invader and quite another thing really to achieve a revolution. Time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed themselves into the hands of another Pharaoh."

"Hence the question: Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?"

"How can one respect, let alone adopt, the values of a people who do not, on any level whatever, live the way they say they do, or the way they say they should?"
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LibraryThing member gbill
Published in 1962, Baldwin was well ahead of his time in speaking the truth about America, and this is a work that is still searing in its relevance today. It’s fascinating to read of his life, his bouts with racist policemen as a kid, becoming a preacher as an adolescent, and the conflicted
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feelings he had about having dinner with Elijah Muhammed of the Nation of Islam. He was perceptive in that he saw behind the obvious racism of Jim Crow into deeper, more insidious forms of racism in liberal areas, and in how history was so white-washed that the majority of Americans were blissfully ignorant about the country’s historical sins. He also saw truths about humanity and its tendency towards incredible cruelty, and yet, the book is uplifting in its hope to evoke change.

Quotes:
“From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms. White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded – at least, in the same way.”

“The treatment accorded the Negro during the Second World War, marks, for me, a turning point in the Negro’s relation to America. To put it briefly, and somewhat too simply, a certain hope died, a certain respect for white Americans faded. One began to pity them, or to hate them. You must put yourself in the skin of a man who is wearing the uniform of his country, is a candidate for death in its defense, and who is called a ‘nigger’ by his comrade-in-arms and his officers; who is almost always given the hardest, ugliest, most menial work to do; who knows that the white G.I. has informed Europeans that he is subhuman…”

“…a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

“When Malcolm X, who is considered the movement’s second-in-command, and heir apparent, points out that the cry of ‘violence’ was not raised, for example, when the Israelis fought to regain Israel, and, indeed, is raised only when black men indicate that they will fight for their rights, he is speaking the truth.”

“The real reason that non-violence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes – I am not speaking now of its racial value, another matter altogether – is that white men do not want their lives, their self-image, or their property threatened.”

I thought this was an interesting observation about Brown vs. Board of Education, particularly as I just watched the PBS American Experience show ‘The Blinding of Isaac Woodard,’ which describe the outrage of what happened to that returning African-America solider, how it shook Truman and led him to action, despite a very conservative background, and the tireless work of South Carolina Judge J. Waties Waring and his wife – all leading up to Brown v. Board of Education. This may be cynical from Baldwin, but I thought it was fascinating to consider:
“White Americans have contented themselves with gestures that are now described as ‘tokenism.’ For hard example, white Americans congratulate themselves on the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools; they suppose, in spite of the mountain of evidence that has since accumulated to the contrary, that this was proof of a change of heart – or, as they like to say, progress. Perhaps. It all depends on how one reads the word ‘progress.’ Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession would ever have been made if it had not been for the competition of the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating herself and therefore had, for political reasons, to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters. Had it been a matter of love or justice, the 1954 decision surely would have occurred sooner; were it not for the realities of power in this difficult era, it might very well not have occurred yet.”
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LibraryThing member ASKelmore
I originally posted a different review of this book. Two days after finishing it I’m still trying to gather my thoughts into a coherent commentary.

This book includes two separate letters – one to Mr. Baldwin’s nephew. That letter is quite short. The second letter takes up the vast majority of
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the book, and tells stories of Mr. Baldwin’s experiences in Harlem, in the church, and meeting with the leader of the National of Islam.

A book I read a couple of weeks ago, “Between the World and Me,” has been compared to this, as both authors are black men speaking about their place in the world, their struggles, and the way that people who see themselves as white act. I found myself having a stronger reaction to that book, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the way Mr. Coates writes. Or, perhaps, it’s just not appropriate for anyone – especially me – to consider these books in relation to each other because they come from different times.

I do think it’s a book everyone should read, though. And I’m looking forward to having a discussion about it at book club next month.
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LibraryThing member DavidAPino
If one wants an understanding of race in the United States, particularly White supremacy against the Black community, I recommend you read "The Fire Next Time." James Baldwin is in a master class when it comes to writing about racism in the US and his seminal work, The Fire Next Time, only serves
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as proof of his rhetorical genius. It is not a lengthy project, as it is only 100 pages (give or take) but each page, sentence, and paragraph are efficient in demonstrating the crisis of our time: white supremacy.

In a time where racism is still the topic of conversation (i.e., police brutality, black lives matter, mass incarceration, anti-immigrant xenophobia etc.,) Baldwin's work still offers an explanation of and a plea against White supremacy in the United States. I can say, without a doubt, that this is one of the most important books I've ever read and I know that I am not alone in this sentiment.
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LibraryThing member rosalita
A seminal work by Baldwin that actually consists of two essays. The first, quite short, is an open letter to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The heart of the book is the second essay, in which Baldwin writes with searing honesty about the prospects of Negroes
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ever achieving equality in America, and whether they wouldn't be better off establishing their own separate country apart from the one that enslaved and brutalized them. The most interesting part for me was Baldwin's account of his meeting with Elijah Mohammed, the founder of the Nation of Islam. Mohammed and his fellow travelers, including Malcolm X, were not impressed with the progress being made by Martin Luther King's nonviolent protests and were prepared to take their piece of the American pie by force, if necessary. Baldwin makes it clear that while he understands and agrees with much of Mohammed's viewpoint, he ultimately rejects the path laid out by the Nation of Islam even as he acknowledges that the nonviolent movement is not making much progress, either.

It was especially interesting to read this after having read Ta-Nehisi Coates' [Between the World and Me] last year. I saw in Baldwin's writing what seems to have been the genesis for much of what Coates believes and writes about. If I hadn't already read Coates I might have been jarred by the harsh tone and anger that Baldwin displays, but instead I found myself much closer to understanding what both Baldwin and Coates wrote about by having read both of them. I've definitely made a note to myself to read some of Baldwin's fiction to get a fuller sense of where he was coming from.
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LibraryThing member Neftzger
I hadn't read this in years, but I went back to re-read it after reading The Fire This Time so that I could refresh my memory. This is a short but very powerful book that should be required reading in American schools. Baldwin has a solid grasp on the condition of race relations and his comments
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are as insightful today as they were when he first published them. It's sad that more than 50 years have passed and things haven't progressed nearly as well as I would have hoped. In fact, it may be even more relevant today.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Written in 1962/1963, there are two parts to this slim book – the first, “My Dungeon Shook”, an open letter to Baldwin’s nephew on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and the second, “Down at the Cross”, a description of Baldwin’s coming to terms with religion
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starting from the age of 14, which is hard enough as it is, but more complicated in light of Baldwin’s experiences growing up as an African-American in 1930’s-1940’s America.

Not surprisingly, Baldwin is angry at the 400 years of injustice, of being discriminated against, devalued, and judged simply because of the color of his skin. Interestingly, he also points out disdain for elements of the liberal movement which ostensibly was allied to his interests, in particular, for liberals believing that blacks should be allowed to “rise up” to their level. Ha!, says Baldwin. (Of course in a more eloquent way :-)

The book goes downhill a bit as Baldwin meets and embraces the “Honorable” Elijah Mohammed, and echoes beliefs such as “Allah allowed the Devil, through scientists, to carry out infernal experiments, which resulted, finally, in the creation of the devil known as the white man.”, that they were decreed to rule the earth for a number of years that was about to expire, etc etc. I don’t react to this because I’m a white man, hell I understand that racism and cruelty over centuries led to this and that it was natural in the Civil Rights Movement to have a more violent “yang” force to Martin Luther King’s non-violent “yin”, I react because these beliefs are just wacky, and in my humble opinion did more harm than good. I would also say that about agreements Baldwin describes between Malcolm X and George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi party, that the races would be better off separate.

However, with that said, Baldwin is always smart and thought-provoking. This is a great snapshot of the early sixties and the fomenting Civil Rights movement, and there are occasional snippets that made me smile because they are so perfect for the time – for example, Bobby Kennedy going out on a limb and predicting that a black man could be president in 40 years, which turned out to be remarkably accurate. (I believe it was 46 years instead of 40).

Bottom line, Baldwin is a great writer and even if the book starts becoming a bit of a rant after the essential points have been made, he qualifies as someone worth reading through a rant.

Quotes:
From My Dungeon Shook:
“You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.”

“The innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever.

The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear.

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you.”

From Down at the Cross, following descriptions of harassment by the police and his thoughts as a boy, which I view as courageous:
“I was icily determined – more determined, really, than I knew – never to make peace with the ghetto but to die and go to Hell before I would let any white man spit on me, before I would accept my ‘place’ in this republic.”

…and the flip-side, the lack of courage:
“…a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

On the African-American experience:
“You must put yourself in the skin of a man who is wearing the uniform of his country, is a candidate for death in its defense, and who is called a ‘nigger’ by his comrades-in-arms and his officers; who is almost always given the hardest, ugliest, most menial work to do; who knows that the white G.I. has informed the Europeans that he is subhuman (so much for the American male’s sexual security); who does not dance at the U.S.O. the night white soldiers dance there, and does not drink in the same bars white soldiers drink in; and who watches German prisoners of war being treated by Americans with more human dignity than he has ever received at their hands. And who, at the same time, as a human being, is far freer in a strange land than he has ever been at home. Home! The very word begins to have a despairing and diabolical ring.”

“This past, the Negro’s past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorry for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect; rage, hatred, and murder, hatred for white men so deep that if often turned against him and his own, and made all love, all trust, all joy impossible – this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful.”

On religion:
“I was also able to see that the principles governing the rites and customs of the churches in which I grew up did not differ from the principles governing the rites and customs of other churches, white. The principles were Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principle necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others. I would love to believe that the principles were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world.”

“I realized that the Bible had been written by white men. I knew that, according to many Christians, I was a descendant of Ham, who had been cursed, and that I was therefore predestined to be a slave.”

“And the blood of the Lamb had not cleansed me in any way whatever. I was just as black as I had been the day that I was born. Therefore, when I faced a congregation, it began to take all the strength I had not to stammer, not to curse, not to tell them to throw away their Bibles and get off their knees and go home and organize, for example, a rent strike. When I watched all the children, their copper, brown, and beige faces staring up at me as I taught Sunday school, I felt that I was committing a crime in talking about the gentle Jesus, in telling them to reconcile themselves to their misery on earth in order to gain the crown of eternal life. Were only Negroes to gain this crown? Was Heaven, then, to be merely another ghetto?”

“..I had been in the pulpit too long and I had seen too many monstrous things. I don’t refer merely to the glaring fact that the minister eventually acquires houses and Cadillacs while the faithful continue to scrub floors and drop their dimes and quarters into the plate. I really mean that there was no love in the church. It was a mask for hatred and self-hatred and despair. The transforming power of the Holy Ghost ended when the service ended, and salvation stopped at the church door. When we were told to love everybody, I had thought that that mean everybody. But no. It applied only to those who believed as we did, and it did not apply to white people at all.”

“It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible) must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”

On violence:
“When Malcom X, who is considered the movement’s second-in-command, and heir apparent, points out that the cry of ‘violence’ was not raised, for example, when the Israelis fought to regain Israel, and, indeed, is raised only when black men indicate that they will fight for their rights, he is speaking the truth. The conquests of England, every single one of them bloody, are part of what Americans have in mind when they speak of England’s glory. In the United States, violence and heroism have been made synonymous except when it comes to blacks…”
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LibraryThing member celerydog
Essential reading alongside history courses which cover 1960s US civil rights period. Important part of an international NF collection for teen RAW (read around the world) programme.Good reading group pick for teen boys.

Powerful rhetoric, unputdownable and easily finished in one sitting - stays
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with you.
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LibraryThing member MichaelDC
I started this last night finished it this morning. Very short, easily read in an hour or two, and probably one of the most important books I've read.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
I found Baldwin's short book which included two essays to be somewhat dated. The essays, both examining the so called "Negro Problem" in America in the early 1960's ("Negro" was the term then in use for African-American, and is used interchangeably with the term "black" in this book. The use of
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both terms in this analysis is therefore reflective of their usage in the book, and of the socio-cultural-literary context in which they were written). Themes other than "the Negro Problem" explored by the book include an examination of the shallowness and ineffectiveness of religious faith, and of inter-generational influences and relationships.
While his superb writing style shown through the rough edges of his idealogical commentary I could not help but wonder what changes he might have made had he written the essays a decade later in 1973 instead of 1963. Nonetheless his commentary presents strong views from the perspective of the Black community. The book stands as a historical document in the long process of political and historical change of the relationship between the races in America.
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LibraryThing member AmyNorthMartinez
The Essays included behind the text of The Fire Next Time are great. They offer a wide variety of perspectives. In a classroom, it would be important to balance these speeches and essays with a fair amount of context. From what is included in the book, you don't get the full picture. With students,
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you would want to let them know about these people. Who they were, and what contributions they made to American and world history.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I am not the first, nor will I be the last to exhort the writing of James Baldwin. His prose is profound and passionate at the same time. As a white woman, I, of course, felt uncomfortable and unsettled as well I should, as I read this. There is a solid thread of hope in the letter and the essay in
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this collection, which is what kept me reading. I can only hope that if he were writing to his nephew today, Baldwin would be able to see some change.
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LibraryThing member JimPratt
This short book describes the author’s life experiences growing up black in 1960s America. In clearly and carefully written prose the young man’s story unfolds through rebellion against his father; making life choices to avoid expectations—both bad and good; and the series of realizations
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that occur as maturity intervenes. The underlying message is that while many of the circumstances and reactions are common to adolescent males almost anywhere, the reality of racial difference in that place and time posed a much narrower range of choices, often with difficult and risky outcomes. Baldwin seems to have maintained enough self-awareness to have navigated some of the pitfalls successfully.
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LibraryThing member Feleciak
Timeless, stirring and honest. Laid out without misgivings.
LibraryThing member klburnside
The Fire Next Time is a 1963 book by James Baldwin that contains two essays: the first being a shorter letter Baldwin writes to his nephew on the one hundredth anniversary of Emancipation, and the second being a discussion of race in America, particularly as it relates to religion, both
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Christianity and the Nation of Islam.

Baldwin is an incredible writer. He is direct and honest in his discussion of race, yet also poetic. His letter to is nephew is heartbreaking, as he expresses his love for his nephew as he pleads with him not to believe the lies society tells him that he is somehow less because of the color of his skin.

In the second essay, Baldwin describes the despair he felt growing up in Harlem, watching people around him succumb to crime and drugs and how easy it was just to become what everyone expected you to become. It sounds cliche and obvious as I write about it, but Baldwin describes this psychological despair with incredible eloquence.

I've been trying to express more about this book, but I can't find the words. Baldwin has excellent insights about fear, love, and power as they relate to race. I just can't do it justice.
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LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
February 2018 selection for the David Bowie Book club run by his son, Duncan Jones.

I have previously read Baldwin's novel Go Tell it on the Mountain, and appreciated the chance to read more of Baldwin -- The Fire Next Time is in essay format, rather than a novel.

I believe some same-titled editions
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include more of Baldwin's essays. Included in this edition are:

My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation

Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind

To his nephew (first section): "This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish." and (also about the United States) : "You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity." (p. 7)

The second section is a long essay. While it also covers issues of race relations, it also discusses his acquaintance with the leaders at that time of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.

About Chicago: "Here was the South Side -- a million in captivity -- stretching from this doorstep as far as the eye could see. And they didn't even read; depressed populations don't have the time or energy to spare. The affluent populations, which should have been their help, didn't, as far as could be discovered, read, either -- they merely bought books and devoured them, but not in order to learn: in order to learn new attitudes." (p. 61)

It's sad that much of what Baldwin wrote about race relations back in the early 1960s is still relevant today.
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LibraryThing member breic
I think my expectations coming in were too high. I didn't find it exceptional.

Original publication date

1963-01-31

ISBN

9780679744726
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