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James Baldwin Quotes

53 of the best book quotes from James Baldwin
01
“You got to hold on to your brother . . . and don’t let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening and no matter how evil you gets with him.”
02
“Yet, it was clear that, for them, I was only Sonny’s brother. Here, I was in Sonny’s world. Or rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood.”
character
concepts
03
“Yet, when he smiled, when we shook hands, the baby brother I’d never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light.”
04
“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”
05
“We live in a housing project. It hasn’t been up long. A few days after it was up it seemed uninhabitably new, now, of course, it’s already run down.”
06
“I’d never played the role of older brother quite so seriously before, had scarcely ever . . . I sensed myself in the presence of something I didn’t really know how to handle, didn’t understand.”
07
“The beat-looking grass lying around isn’t enough to make their lives green, the hedges will never hold out the streets, and they know it.”
08
“And I was yet aware that this was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky.”
09
“He and Sonny hadn’t ever got on too well. And this was partly because Sonny was the apple of his father’s eye. It was because he loved Sonny so much and was frightened for him, that he was always fighting for him.”
10
“But houses exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster.”
11
“Then they all came together again, and Sonny was part of the family again.”
12
″ . . . As I covertly studied Sonny’s face, it came to me that what we both were seeking through our separate cab windows was the part of ourselves which had been left behind.”
13
“He hopes that the hand which stokes his forehead will never stop – will never die. He hopes that there will never come a time when the old folks won’t be sitting around the living room, talking about where they’ve come from, and what they’ve seen, and what’s happened to them and their kinfolk.”
14
“I couldn’t believe it: but what I mean by that is that I couldn’t find any room for it anywhere inside of me. I had kept it outside me for a long time. I hadn’t wanted to know.”
15
“These boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities.”
16
“The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about. It’s what they’ve come from. It’s what they endure. The child knows that they won’t talk any more because if he knows too much about what’s happened to them, he’ll know too much too soon, about what’s going to happen to him.”
17
“They certainly couldn’t throw him out. Neither did they dare to make a great scene about that piano because even they dimly sensed, as I sensed, from so many thousands of miles away, that Sonny was at that piano playing for his life.”
18
“No there’s no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem—well, like, you. Like you did something, all right, and now you’re suffering for it.”
19
“I feel like a man who’s been trying to climb up out of some deep, real deep and funky hole and just saw the sun up there, outside. I got to get outside.”
20
“When I saw him many things I thought I had forgotten came flooding back to me. This was because I had begun, finally, to wonder about Sonny, about the life that Sonny lived inside.”
21
“You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.”
22
“The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them.”
23
“That summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and controlled my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me, and drove me into the church.”
24
“Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any of those people to treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated; only the fear of your power to retaliate would cause them to do that, or seem to do it, which was (and is) good enough.”
25
“Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”
26
“God ... is white. ”
27
“The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality. ”
28
“And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.”
29
“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.”
30
“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 wondered, when that vengeance was achieved, What will happen to all that beauty then?”
31
“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.”
32
“If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”
33
“White people cannot, in the generality, be taken as models of how to live.”
34
“Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality.”
35
“We cannot be free until they are free.”
36
“This is why the most dangerous creation of any society is that man who has nothing to lose. You do not need ten such men—one will do. And Elijah, I should imagine, has had nothing to lose since the day he saw his father’s blood rush out—rush down, and splash, so the legend has it, down through the leaves of a tree, on him.”
37
“Furthermore, I have met only a very few people—and most of these were not Americans—who had any real desire to be free. Freedom is hard to bear.”
38
“Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other [country]. ”
39
“But it was a criminal power, to be feared but not respected.”
40
“Black has become a beautiful color—not because it is loved ... because it is feared.”
41
“One can give freedom only by setting someone free. ”
42
“Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house? ”
43
“That moment gave him, from that time on, if not a weapon at least a shield; he apprehended totally, without belief or understanding, that he had a power in himself that other people lacked; that he could use this to save himself, to raise himself; and that, perhaps, with this power he might one day win that love which he so longed for.”
44
″‘And what you going to do, Richard? What you want to be?’ And his face clouded. ‘I don’t know. I got to find out. Looks like I can’t get my mind straight nohow.‘”
45
“She felt a great commotion in the air around her--a great excitement, muted, waiting on the Lord. And the air seemed to tremble, as before a storm. A light seemed to hang--just above, and all around them--about to burst into revelation.”
46
“There, her beginning, and she fought through darkness still; toward that moment when she would make her peace with God, when she would hear Him speak, and He would wipe all tears from her eyes; as, in that other darkness, after eternity, she had heard John cry.”
47
“And this is why, though he had been born in the faith and had been surrounded all his life by the saints and by their prayers and their rejoicing, and though the tabernacle in which they worshipped was more completely real to him than the several precarious homes in which he and his family had lived, John’s heart was hardened against the Lord.”
48
“Yes, he had heard it all his life, but it was only now that his ears were opened to this sound that came from darkness, that could only come from darkness, that yet bore such sure witness to the glory of the light.”
49
“Oh, Lord, have mercy. Have mercy, Lord.”
50
“The darkness of his sin was in the hardheartedness with which he resisted God’s power.”
51
“You better commence to tremble when the Lord, He gives you your heart’s desire.”
52
“And he wanted to rise up, singing, singing in that great morning, the morning of his new life. Ah, how his tears ran down, how they blessed his soul! --as he felt himself, out of the darkness, and the fire, and the terrors of death, rising upward to meet the saints.”
53
“There had never been a time when John had not sat watching the saints rejoice with terror in his heart, and wonder.”

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