James Baldwin Quote

The first time I saw Reverend Shuttlesworth, for example, he came strolling across the parking lot of the motel where I was staying, his hat perched precariously between the back of his skull and the nape of his neck, alone. It was late at night, and Shuttlesworth was a marked man in Birmingham. He came up into my room, and, while we talked, he kept walking back and forth to the window. I finally realized that he was keeping an eye on his car—making sure that no one put a bomb in it, perhaps. As he said nothing about this, however, naturally I could not. But I was worried about his driving home alone, and, as he was leaving, I could not resist saying something to this effect. And he smiled—smiled as though I were a novice, with much to learn, which was true, and as though he would be glad to give me a few pointers, which, indeed, not much later on, he did—and told me he’d be all right and went downstairs and got into his car, switched on the motor and drove off into the soft Alabama night. There was no hint of defiance or bravado in his manner. Only, when I made my halting observation concerning his safety, a shade of sorrow crossed his face, deep, impatient, dark; then it was gone. It was the most impersonal anguish I had ever seen on a man’s face. It was as though he were wrestling with the mighty fact that the danger in which he stood was as nothing compared to the spiritual horror which drove those who were trying to destroy him. They endangered him, but they doomed themselves.

James Baldwin

The first time I saw Reverend Shuttlesworth, for example, he came strolling across the parking lot of the motel where I was staying, his hat perched precariously between the back of his skull and the nape of his neck, alone. It was late at night, and Shuttlesworth was a marked man in Birmingham. He came up into my room, and, while we talked, he kept walking back and forth to the window. I finally realized that he was keeping an eye on his car—making sure that no one put a bomb in it, perhaps. As he said nothing about this, however, naturally I could not. But I was worried about his driving home alone, and, as he was leaving, I could not resist saying something to this effect. And he smiled—smiled as though I were a novice, with much to learn, which was true, and as though he would be glad to give me a few pointers, which, indeed, not much later on, he did—and told me he’d be all right and went downstairs and got into his car, switched on the motor and drove off into the soft Alabama night. There was no hint of defiance or bravado in his manner. Only, when I made my halting observation concerning his safety, a shade of sorrow crossed his face, deep, impatient, dark; then it was gone. It was the most impersonal anguish I had ever seen on a man’s face. It was as though he were wrestling with the mighty fact that the danger in which he stood was as nothing compared to the spiritual horror which drove those who were trying to destroy him. They endangered him, but they doomed themselves.

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About James Baldwin

James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American writer. He garnered acclaim across various mediums, including essays, novels, plays, and poems. His first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, was published in 1953; decades later, Time magazine included the novel on its list of the 100 best English-language novels released from 1923 to 2005. His first essay collection, Notes of a Native Son, was published in 1955.Baldwin's work fictionalizes fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures. Themes of masculinity, sexuality, race, and class intertwine to create intricate narratives that run parallel with some of the major political movements toward social change in mid-twentieth century America, such as the civil rights movement and the gay liberation movement. Baldwin's protagonists are often but not exclusively African American, and gay and bisexual men frequently feature prominently in his literature. These characters often face internal and external obstacles in their search for social and self-acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin's second novel, Giovanni's Room, which was written in 1956, well before the gay liberation movement.His reputation has endured since his death and his work has been adapted for the screen to great acclaim. An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the documentary film I Am Not Your Negro (2016), which was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards. One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film of the same name in 2018, directed and produced by Barry Jenkins.In addition to writing, Baldwin was also a well-known, and controversial, public figure and orator, especially during the civil rights movement in the United States.