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THIRTEEN Specials: Take This Hammer

See and hear author, activist and American Master James Baldwin meet with members of the local African-American community in San Francisco in the early 1960s. “Take This Hammer” shows a Baldwin intent on discovering what he called, “the real situation of Negroes in the city, as opposed to the image San Francisco would like to present.”

Film courtesy of the Channel Thirteen-PBS in New York archive.

* * *
An encore of James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (original broadcast August 14, 1989) is scheduled for Friday, August 23 at 9pm on PBS in honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (8/28/1963). This broadcast also coincides with the 25th anniversary of James Baldwin’s death (12/1/1987) and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863).

Transcript Print

San Francisco?


Oh, man, I'm gonna tell you about San Francisco.

San Francisco ain't for me.

I mean, ever since I got out of high school, I had a couple of jobs.

I worked at a couple of past companies and, uh, warehouses.

I mean, after a while, they say, 'Well, I guess we gonna lay you off for a couple of weeks,' you know.

They talk about the South.

The South is not half as bad as San Francisco.

You want to tell me about San Francisco?

I'll tell you about San Francisco.

The white man, he's not -- He's not takin' advantage of you out in public like they doin' down in Birmingham.

But he's killin' you with that pencil and paper, brother.

When you go to look for a job, can you get a job?

Can you get a job, Winkle?

This is the San Francisco Americans pretend does not exist.

They think I'm making it up.

National Educational Television presents... 'Take This Hammer.'

♪ Take this hammer

This is a film report on a visit to the city of San Francisco by the novelist, essayist, and playwright James Baldwin.

Mr. Baldwin's guide on this tour of the city is the executive director of Youth For Service, Orville Luster.

♪ Take this hammer ♪ And carry it to the captain ♪ You tell him I'm gone ♪ You tell him I'm gone

The drive from the airport into any American city looks pretty much the same.

You could be anywhere.

But for James Baldwin, this similarity goes deeper.

On the drive into San Francisco, Baldwin began talking about the increasing bitterness, demoralization, and despair of Negro youths in northern cities.

And it was decided that we would explore the existence of such attitudes and conditions in the city of San Francisco, with its widely advertised liberal and cosmopolitan traditions.

Baldwin also talked about his concept of dues paying, or living up to one's responsibility, and commented that many northerners seem to feel that because they do not live in Mississippi, they are somehow paying their dues.

I think the truth is that everyone, on the one hand, is fundamentally capable of paying his dues, but no one pays his dues willingly.

You know?

And the white man, like the black man, like any other man on Earth, can pay his dues if he realizes that that's what he's got to do.

As long as you think there's some way to get through life without paying your dues, you're gonna be bankrupt.

The bill has come in.

It's not coming in. It is in.

And the very question now is precisely what we've got in the bank.

This will cost us everything we think we have.


And Birmingham is an incident, you know, which may become a shrine.

What is really crucial is whether or not the country, the people in the country, the citizenry, are able to recognize that there is no moral distance, no moral distance, which is to say no distance between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham.

We've got to call, you know, we've got to tell it like it is.

And that's where it's at.

♪ Oh, I said I wasn't gonna tell nobody ♪ ♪ But I

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ Oh, I

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ Oh, I

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ Said I wasn't gonna tell nobody ♪ ♪ But I

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ Oh, I

♪ What the lord has done for me ♪

♪ Oh, I said I wasn't gonna tell nobody ♪ ♪ But I

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ Oh, I

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ Oh, I

♪ Couldn't keep it to myself ♪

♪ I said I wasn't gonna tell nobody ♪ ♪ But I

I imagine it'd be easy for any white person walking through San Francisco to imagine that everything was at peace because it certainly looks it that way, you know, on the surface.

San Francisco's much prettier than New York.

And it's easier to hide in San Francisco than it is in New York because you've got the view, you've got the hills.

You've got the San Francisco legend, too, which is that it's cosmopolitan and forward-looking.

But it's just another American city.

And if you're a black man, that means that's a very bitter thing to say.

Children are dying here as they are in New York for the very same reason.

But, see, it's a somewhat better place to lie about it.

That's really all it comes to.

Nobody wants to destroy the image of San Francisco.

Old city.

Oh, yes. Yes.

I'd like to acquaint you with, uh, San Francisco as a whole, Mr. Baldwin.

And I think, mostly, that what's being watched here today is somethin' black, and the young people go to school together, they graduate off the same stage, and then when it comes to jobs, the black face is not qualified, but they graduate.

Then my daughter has to go clean up the same girl's house that she graduates off the stage.

As I said, the most that's being watched is the black face.

What we were talking about last night, coming in from the airport, was the real situation of Negroes in this city...

Yes. opposed to the image...

That's right.

...San Francisco would like to present.


Well, why don't you tell me a little bit about it?

I know a lot about New York, but I'm a stranger here.

Let's say I'm sure the -- I'm sure the, um, principle holds, but I'm curious about the details.

Well, one thing about it in this particular area, about 80% of the people in this area are Negro.

This is a real large housing project.

There's -- As far as delinquency is concerned, we rank about fourth.

The job situation is bad.

This is a real black belt of San Francisco.

I think that, uh, the lady over to your left, Mrs. Nichols, is a good representative of one of the indigenous leaders in this area.

Tell me something.

It may sound like a stupid question, but it's a question I have to ask myself all the time.

What, precisely, do you say to a Negro kid, um... to, um...invest him with... a morale which the country is determined he shan't have?

Or to spell that out much more specifically, when dealing with a Negro kid and trying to insist that he know that he can do anything he wants to do, how do you make him believe it?

That's a difficult question.

I think that, uh, that one of the main things that we have to make and believe... You know, they say everybody can be the President of the United States.

That's true.

And then, uh...this boy, uh, grows up and he comes up.

But by the time he gets 14 or 15 years old, he begins to find out that, uh, that, uh, this -- this is not true and to make him, uh, face -- be able to face what's coming to him in the future. a Negro president in this country.

There'll never be a Negro president in this country?

Why do you say that?

We can't get jobs.

How we gonna be a president?


But I want you to think about this.

There be a Negro president of this country, but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now.

What if you say to yourself, 'There never will be a Negro president of this country?'

And what you're doing is agreeing with white people who say you are inferior.

It's not important, really, you know, whether or not there's a Negro president, I mean, in that way.

What's important is that you should realize that you can become -- you can become the President.

There's nothing anybody -- can do that you can't do.

Well, the truth is if you get them, if you get -- I don't -- I don't think this is an exaggeration.

I think the truth still is that even when you get to the most meager opportunity, you've got to be at least five times as good as anybody else around, five times as good not only at the job, but... This is what is so dangerous, I think.

You have to have a certain... The boys that I grew up with, I grew up in the streets in Harlem.

And of the survivors, what marks all the survivors is a certain ruthlessness which was absolutely indispensable when -- when we're going to survive.

I can do it.

I can do it. I can do it.

I don't have to work -- I don't have to work for nobody and I can make it.

I don't have to work --

But how do you make it?

What you mean, how I make it?

This is something -- I'm not gonna tell you how I make it.

Lookit, I'm indicting myself, brother, talking to you.

You go back and tell the police what I did.

[ Laughter ]

I didn't say you were doin' nothin'.

No, you're doing that for -- What if I tell you that I robbed a bank in Los Angeles?

You believe that?

Well, no, if you -- if you don't say you did.

I ain't gonna say I did, neither.

The things you'll be talking about now, their real problem is that they cannot find, in the country, any -- any reason to accept anything the country says.

And they're very young, so they can't find anything else, either.

And this is how they end up, for example, on the needle.

It's a crime committed by one section of the population, of the populace, against another section of the populace.

And it's a crime which really could destroy this country.

What do you think about the police?

I think they have a purpose.

But, then again, the way some of these people do you sometimes when they pick you up and stop you... Or, like, a couple of times we'd be downtown just walkin' around, they'd look at you.

If you look suspicious, they would just stop you.

Like, I was goin' to a show one night, me and my wife.

And we just happened to go around Market Street, and we seen this police car go by.

All right, we can turn the corner then make the corner.

They meet us. And they stop us.

Our show starts at 7:45.

We were out there till 9:00.

But then they didn't have no excuse to stop us.

But they stopped us, searched the car, call in, and this and that.

And what was the purpose of that?

We weren't doing anything wrong.

Nobody was mad.

Let me ask you one thing.

What do police do when they get mad?

What do the police do when they get mad?

I mean, we ordinary citizens.

When we get mad, we can do things to hurt people and rob and steal.

What -- what do they do when they get mad?

Who do they take their steam off on?

I think you know the answer to that question.

Well, I couldn't answer that because the police has never bothered me in that way.

But I read newspapers, and I've been livin' around here all my life and I see things goin' on.


Well, when a policeman gets mad, he's got a gun.

And he's got a club.


It's one thing that's different in, uh, San Francisco and Birmingham, it is that San Francisco is whitewash.

Yeah. Precisely.


In San Francisco, it's under the rug.


You know, it hasn't hit the headlines yet, and everyone -- everyone in San Francisco, every white person in San Francisco pretend they haven't got a Negro problem.

Everywhere I have been in this country, if you talk to a white person, he says race relations are excellent, and I've yet to find a single Negro in this country who agrees with that.

And then if you ask that the Negro have a better opportunity, ask that Negro be hired in a large firm, they only reach out and hire one just to shut your mouth.

And put him in the window.

Well, Mr. Baldwin, I'd like to also say that Hunters Point seems to me, in my opinion, the way you're lookin' at it, Hunters Point is just like being in Alabama right now.


And I feel that we don't -- some of the ones that can't go down, we can -- we can march on San Francisco for the black man, to help the black woman.

We can do that here because it has been stated that until we work on this, San Francisco and other areas --New York and all Chicago and all around -- that we can get something done.

We can help our brothers in the South.

In the South, yes.

Those -- The black people in Alabama are my people.

Yes, yeah.

Primarily, I'm from Texas.


But anywhere in the South, anywhere a Negro is -- a black man is involved, I'm there.


I'm the mother of five kids, the mother of a 9-week-old baby.

But if the time comes where I can't march here in San Francisco, I certainly will beg, borrow a ticket to go to Alabama.


And I am ready.

♪ You are the reason

♪ You're the reason

♪ That saved my soul

♪ Saved my soul

♪ That Sunday morning

♪ Sunday morning

♪ I put my

♪ Knees on the ground

♪ Oh

I suppose that no one in San Francisco has any sense of what a dangerous area this is.

And I think this is one of the real troubles that the Negro has in San Francisco -- He doesn't really know his place because it hasn't been really spelled out.


And he's trying to find his place, and it's so... This is one of the problems, you know what I mean?

What place is there for me?

You know, he came out to escape.

And then you keep trying...

And this is another prison.

That's right. You know?

And you find yourself facin' the Pacific Ocean, you know?


There's no place else to go.

Yes. Yeah.

You know?

Now, you can see this is...


More residences and even apartments and so forth.

Coming down, we will soon be to Market Street.

The great problem is how in the world one is going to invest these children with a new morale, a sense of their own worth because the country isn't gonna do it.

The country won't do it.

I suppose one can say as long as the country can't do it, then he'll be able to choose his own worth.

We have no race here.

We have no race at all.

We have no flags.


No cut.

Think they're better.


The white man? Oh!

Tell me what you mean.

You know what I mean?

Take what you want.

Huh? Tell me what you mean.

What I mean?


I mean, I'm tryin'...

No, we gonna tell it, man.

We gonna tell it.

I don't have nothin' over here.

No, no.

Nothing over here?


I don't have anything.

Where the man at?

How long you felt that way?

How long I felt that way?

Since 1956.

Since 1956?


Why did you feel that way?


Why did you feel that way?

Because I realized what a dog the white man was.

How did you come to realize it?

When he got to start jumpin' on me and puttin' me in jail and everything, you know.

Where did that happen?


Right here in San Francisco...

Right here in San Francisco?

California. Wasn't nothin'.

Tell me how it started.

How it started?

What you mean, how it started?

Tell me about the first time you were arrested.

First time I was arrested?


Well, that was...

That was in 1948.

That was in 1948?


What for?

Well, I don't know what they call it, but I got caught in a bedroom with a little white girl, said she was a juvenile.

[ Laughs ] Where was that?

Right here in San Francisco.

In San Francisco?


How old were you in 1948?




Never let the white man catch you on your knees, brother.

You were 8 years old in 19...


You were 8 years old in 1948?


And you were caught in bed with a little white girl?


And you went to jail?


When you were 8?


In San Francisco?


And, lookit, you learn from the world you live in, brother.

This white man ain't teach you nothin' in his book but what you ought to know, and you ain't gonna know nothin' about it...

He's not even teachin' me about the future of my people.

What you goin' to school for then, dummy?

We don't even have a country.

I know that.

Do we have a country?

He's sayin' you ought to think this is your country, which is not your country.

What flag is a black man's flag?

We have no flag, brother.

No flag at all.

People, people, we not gonna get nothin', not by sittin' around here doin' this sit-in demonstrations or nothin'. People not gonna do anything for us.

Well, how are we gonna do it?

Huh? By violence. Violence.

And when you say...

By uprisin', having a revolution.

But there are 20 million of us.

20 million? That's enough.

Not these days and not in those terms.

Oh, it's enough.

They're scattered. 48 states.

48 states? Get 'em together.


How? Through Islam.


The true religion, you know.

Get all the people together, get 'em all believin' one thing, and then they can't help but stick together.

I mean, we can't stick together now, half of us Christians, the other half Baptists, you know, some Jews and all that.

And what good is that gonna do us?

Catholics. Mm-hmm.

So you think the only thing we can do...

Is get together. have an armed uprising?


Just with blood, you know?

Let everybody bleed a little bit.

That's the only way we're gonna get anything.

What happened to the people in Birmingham?

Well, Birmingham isn't over yet.

Oh, it's over.

Oh, yeah. It's over.

It's over.

It's over.

They done sent in the state troopers, the federal.

It's all over now.

People, they had a little old, you know, little old show Sunday night and all.

That was the only thing they did.

When they was marchin' around in them thousands and thousands, wasn't nothin' happenin'. They got mad Sunday.

Jumped on a few of 'em, sent a few of 'em to the hospital.

And then what happens?

They say, 'We gonna give you what you want,' huh?

Yeah. That ain't nothin'. Ain't gonna get nothin'.

Now, the Negro teenager... He doesn't have any possibility as we sit here now -- I mean, as of this moment, this is not historical -- does not have any possibility of accepting American history, which is to say, he has no way of learning it because it has not been and it is not being taught.

Yet, there is no possibility for him to begin to act on what we always like to think of as the American assumptions, you know, a man's a man for all that and all that jazz.

It isn't that he wouldn't.

It's because there's no possibility of his doing so because the country intends to keep him in his place and still does because the only way a Negro teenager can make it is to step outside that system, you know, to become an effective criminal on whatever level, you know, to become an operator, you know, like they need to make it, or to turn to Malcolm X.

They tryin' to tear down our homes, brother, and when the white man try to tear down your home, then it's time for you to do somethin'. But what can we do?

We don't know anything about what's goin' on.

I mean, we try to go to the meeting and things like that.

We watch the television.

We watch all this about Birmingham down there.

Just like Malcolm X said yesterday on television, he said, 'The white man, he talk about truth.'

And, uh, this man, Mr. King, he down there talkin' about, 'Yeah, can we get some kinda -- Can we get some kinda cooperation?

Can we get some kinda truth down there?'

Oh, what are they doin' down there?

They not doin' anything.

See, I'm callin' him a chump, just like Malcolm X call it.

He's a chump, and I think a black Muslim is right in some of his doings.

And I think that a truce down there is impossible.

It's utterly impossible.

It's fantastic and it's unbelievable.

[ Applause ] Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Wait, wait, let me tell you.

Now, they talkin' about better jobs -- jobs right here.

You want me to tell you what kind of job they gonna give us?

They gonna let us tear down our own homes out here on Hunters Point.

That's the job we gettin'. And you know what they gonna pay us?

Let me tell you what they gonna pay us.

They gonna pay you $2 an hour.

They gonna holler some kind of apprenticeship deal or somethin' like that.

Now, I mean, what else is that gainin' you?

It's not gainin' you a thing.

You won't get anything.

They'll help you take... You'll tear down your own homes.

It's a job, temporarily.

And then what you gonna do?

Where you gonna live?

You're not gonna live anywhere.

They not even in the process of tryin' to tell you where you gonna live.

All they talkin' about is tearin' down Hunters Point.

How long you been in San Francisco?

Oh, I've been in San Francisco about 18 years, ever since I was about a year or 2 old.

And you live around here, too.


In temporary housing or...

No, I stay in the projects.

It ain't no temporary housin' no more -- they tearin' them down.

There used to be temporary housing.


Now it's permanent housing.

Ain't no more.

There ain't gonna be no place when they get through.

Ain't that right?

We gonna be livin' out on the streets.

Does it make you feel bad because you...

Yeah, it make you feel bad.

Won't be no place to go.

We'd be livin' out here on the streets in tents.

Where would you like to go, if you could go?

What part of San Francisco would you like to go?

I'd stay up here on top of the hill.

You would?


Now, how long you been livin' on top of the hill?

Ever since I been born.

And then this is part of a redevelopment, also.

What do you mean, re... You say 'redevelopment,' meaning...

Removal of Negroes.

Uh-huh. Yes. That's -- That's what I thought you meant.

In other words, a lot of the Negroes who came because the Japanese were pushed out now are being pushed out, so...

Now being pushed out themselves.

That's right.

And they think San Francisco is reclaiming this...

That's right.

...this property...

That's right. build it up, which means Negroes have to go.

That's right.


And in the...

Where are they going to go?

Well, they're going out to Hunters Point and to the Haight-Ashbury area and also into Ocean View -- wherever they can find the reasonable rents.

Yeah. Yeah.

South of Market and all these other places, wherever they can find cheap rent, in other words...


Going from one ghetto to the other.

Yes. Yes.

This the Negro housing project, in effect?

Yeah, as well as a few Caucasians staying here, you know.


Um, I know a lot about housing projects in New York, but I'm sure this doesn't differ at all.

No, houses there, some of the same problems, although, the building, the exterior looks...

Well, the exterior looks marvelous -- that's the whole point, you know.


But I know what goes on inside.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

I'm sure that in the housing projects... I know the housing projects in New York.

The kids despise 'em, you know.

Better housing in the ghetto is simply not possible.

You can create, you can build a few better plans, but you cannot do anything about the moral and psychological effects of being in a ghetto.

This is it.

This -- this is the point.

Everybody living in those housing projects is just as in danger as ever before by all the things a ghetto means.

By raising the kids in one of those housing projects, I would still have, at the front door, or probably right next door, in the housing projects, all the things I was trying to escape.

That means such things as... I mean, even from such things as -- as dealing with insurance companies if I want fire insurance, you know, to the fact that, um, in the playground, my boy and my girl will be exposed to the man who sells narcotics, for example, to a million forces where are inevitably set in motion when a people are despised.

And you can't pretend that you're not despised if you are.

You were saying yesterday that children can't be fooled.

I can be fooled, you know, and be glad about, you know, having a three-room, whatever it is, some mashed potatoes, a terrace overlooking a garage.

But my kid won't be because my kids are being destroyed by these fantastic apartments.

Now, this is the ILW housing project, which will be interracial.

The people who are renting it now, 70 percent are Caucasian, 30 percent are Negro.


Then above that would be the Eichler homes and so forth.

Eichlers always let Negros buy, if they had the money.

Although, their apartments, I mean, their houses cost, say, from $22,000 up to $32,000.


So, naturally, this automatically...

Eliminates, yeah, Negroes.

...eliminates a lot of people.

I conclude that all this has something to do with money.

The land has been reclaimed for money, and that the people who are putting up their houses expect to make a profit, but it seems to me that I'm attacking what's called a profit motive.

There are some things more important than profits.

I live in New York City, and it's been turned into a desert, really, for the same reason.

What is happening in San Francisco now is that the society made the assumption and certainly acts on the assumption that to make money is more important than to have citizens.

You're paying too high a price for this.

And it isn't only what it's doing to Negro children, which is, God knows, bad enough.

It's what it does to white children, who grow up believing that it is more important to make a profit than it is to be a man.

And that's the way the society really operates.

I don't care what society says.

This is the way it operates.

And these are the goals it sets.

And these goals aren't worthy of a man.

And adolescents know it.

Oh, you workin' out here?

No. I'm not.

Well, what has been some of the -- what has been some of your problems that you face as a Negro in San Francisco?

Well, my main problem is, uh, findin' a job.

Yesterday I talked to a guy my wife knows that worked at a fill-up station.

He been out of service 2 months and he got two jobs.


I been here 8 years, and I worked about three steady jobs.

You ain't got no job now.

And, uh, I look every day, just like he say he started out.

He looked maybe once or twice a day, and he work at the fill-up station and work longshoreman work.

And he told me, from his own mouth, who was on top.

He didn't come out and say it just like I'm gonna say it.

But he come out and told me that, uh, you got to know somebody in San Francisco to get somewhere.

And by knowin' somebody, it's got to be somebody with authority.

And nobody in San Francisco, no colored man got no authority.

And I mean, no -- There are no Negro leaders in San Francisco that you feel...

Well, there are a few.

There are a few.

Do you know any?

No, I don't know any, but the ones that get up there... The ones that get up there, they don't want to help nobody.

No one has -- No one has ever helped you?

No, nobody with authority, except my parole officer.

Well, even the least damaged of those kids would have to... put as mildly as can be put at the moment, would have to be a little sardonic about the things he sees in television, what the President says and, um, all those movies about bein' a good American and all that jazz.

And you look at this, look over there, look up here.

And he would despise the people, you know, who are able to have such a tremendous gap between their performance and their profession.

But the more-damaged kids would simply feel like blowing it up.

Simply feel like blowing it up.

In speaking only for myself, you know, that I feel -- I feel a little sardonic.

I'm civilized, I think.

But there was a time in my life when I would have felt just like blowing it up.

What's more crucial, what's more terrible is how since one's mainly left alone in terms of any help you can get from the country, in this effort, how do you get through to these damaged kids?

And I don't know what I could say which would make any sense to them because, in fact, this does not make any sense.

Now, with all of these beautiful buildings, now, they're going to be ringed in by hostile people.

That's right.

Just like they have in New York.

Hostile and frightened people, because they don't... They walk down the street and wonder why the first Negro boy they see looks as them as though he wants to kill them and, if he gets the chance, tries.

And it's because he can't go to Asia, you know, he can't... It's because he can't -- He hasn't -- He has no -- He has no ground to stand here.

The cat said yesterday, 'I got no country.

I got no flag.'

And it isn't because he's a born paranoiac that he said that.

It's because of the performance of the country for his 18 years on Earth has proven that to him.

Now, how one manages to make these people, these blind people, begin to see... Basically, that building... It has absolutely no foundation.

And it really does not have any foundation.

It's going to come down, one way or another.

Either we will correct what's wrong.

Or it'll be corrected for us.

And this is the...

What was that?

The Saint Mary's Cathedral.

This bombed building here?


I mean, not bombed, but, I mean...fired.

Well, it looks bombed.

There was a fire.

But this is gonna be torn down.

But this will not be the site of the cathedral.

They're going to change it.

Really is horrible to look at.

Oh, yeah.

This was started one night.

They had -- Some of the kids were having a dance in the downstairs.

Didn't take it very long.

It just gutted the whole thing.

But as a result, the Catholic Church was able to raise $15 million to build another cathedral.

Some people know how to make it.

I was raised a Christian, you know.

My daddy and my mama were very religious.

They knew that white Christians were not Christians because of the way they treated black people.

And the Christian Church in this country has never, in my experience, never, as far as I know, been Christian.

The record is much more than -- is much more than shameful.

The record in -- The record proves that as we stand here as of this moment, the Christian Church is bankrupt.

There's not a single person I could turn to, if I were tryin' to deal with one of those boys we were talkin' to yesterday.

If I tried to tell them to go to church or even suggested the name of Jesus Christ, he'd spit in my face.

And it's not because he doesn't like my face.

It's because of what white Christians have done and do and now deny.

All these churches are absolutely meaningless.

They're almost blasphemous.

If they don't mean it, they should -- you know, they should, um, say so.

Christianity has become a kind of social club.

You have to have a membership card to get in, and black people can't have a membership card.

Actually, Christianity, at the moment, looks rather like that church, that shell.

It's a God shop.

I mean, what...

Oh, the God shops.

I think the God shops -- I know the God shops are there to console a whole lot of desperate people, what we can here call the failure of Christianity, really, you know.

The people in the God shops today, it gives them the only... It's only one of the few places they can go to find any way of getting through their day, of dealing with the landlord and, um, pawnbroker and the children and the whole powerful complex of forces which bear you down every day, when you no longer accept this whole notion of heaven later, you know, concentration camp here.

Next to the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church.


This is one of the real little God shops.

Well, see, I've always thought that Negro church is singing and dancing and praying.

Maybe they were really quite simple-minded and happier, you know, than white people.

What goes on in those God shops, you know, is exactly the thing that's going on down in the Muslim temples, but no one has ever made that connection.

Off to our left here is one Negro hotel, that's all.

The only Negro hotel here?


It's called the Booker T. Washington?



This is a street that all Negroes are born on, you know, the street all Negroes have to survive -- the Booker T. Washington, the Baptist Church, and the mosque.


There's really a great history, you know, a great thing to be summed up in that, if one could.

Looking at this street now, the Booker T. Washington Hotel, I mean, what comes to your mind about, uh, some type of music or some passage from the bible that describes this?

Sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

I don't know. I don't know.

I'm sure those guys across the street can dance like, you know, their white counterparts can, and the reason they can is because they, in a way, they must.

It is... It's got to come out somehow.

It's got to come out somehow, you know.

And if the pressure is great enough, it has to come out in a certain kind of... Negroes have great style.

I think this is true, even if it sounds chauvinistic, and white people don't have much style.

And one of the reasons the Negroes have a certain style is because they are aware of the conditions of their lives.

They can't prove themselves without it, you know.

And when a Negro laughs or tries to make love or... ...or eats or dances, it's a kind of total action.

I don't mean this the way white liberals are gonna think I mean it.

I don't mean that they're more sensual, more primitive, more spontaneous and all this ethnic jazz.

I mean that they live -- they live on another level of experience which doesn't allow them as much room -- as much room for make-believe as white people have.

Any American black man knows that there's something that American white men... They're in the grip of some extraordinary sexual paranoia.

And they really are.

What that comes from is probably historic from some other, you know, some other time and place.

In any case, such a long and terrible story and so complicated that one couldn't begin to discuss it except by examining, if you like, you know, such things.

When we read 'Huckleberry Finn,' we read William Faulkner, the range between black and white men in this country has always been the most extraordinary.

And once.... There's something real in it and a terrifying invention in it, and it goes all the way back to the first time any American started writing, and it has something to do with the Indians.

If one could crack that nut, really, open that can of beans, if one could try to find out -- and this is something white people have to do, Negroes can't do it -- exactly what a Negro means to a white man... I don't mean what he means in terms of signing petitions and, you know, marching with picket signs and all that jazz.

I mean, what he really means, you know.

Why you're afraid of him.

That's what it comes to.

If one could begin to examine that, one might then begin to be able to deal with what is a really quite simple matter, relatively speaking.

That is to say, if one could examine that, then the conundrum of the housing situation in San Francisco will not be a conundrum because it is based on that.

And all the lies Americans tell themselves and all the evasions that they give themselves are based on some fantastic escape, partly from Europe and then from the Indians and now, spectacularly, from me.

It's insane.

Well, white liberals think of themselves as missionaries.

I had a kind of fight once with a very well-known white liberal.

And I said, in the course of my conversation, something about 'Mr. Charlie.'

This man has been around for a long, long time, and he said, 'Who's Mr. Charlie?'

And I was shocked that he didn't know, you know, and I told him who Mr. Charlie was.

I said, 'You're Mr. Charlie.

All white men are Mr. Charlie.'

But liberals have protected themselves against this level of experience because their principal motive has so far been as far as I can tell, a kind of alleviation of or protection of their own consciences.

They want to do something to help Negroes because it makes them feel better, but the price that they paid for this kind of effort is that they have never discovered who a Negro is -- Not what, but who.

Only a liberal, for example, could write the script to define one.

No Negro could, you know.

Only a liberal can be offended, as John Fischer at is offended, when, you know, when Negroes make some unmistakable indication that they're going -- that they don't want any more.

This is the record, you see.

They really think that, somehow, the record of the Negro people's survival in this country is something on which they can congratulate themselves.

And they don't know that for every one man who survived, 20 perished, and that whatever the Negroes manage to do here was done against tremendous -- the tremendous abolition of the power structure.

I don't mean there weren't some white people who managed, you know, but in the generality, this is the way it's been.

Do you feel that the white liberal, a lot of times, that when things gets real tough, that he can escape?

I mean, he can revert back tomorrow.

Oh, the white liberal, when things get tough... A white woman told me a few weeks ago, she had -- She had had the bad luck to be sitting in the same room with about 20 students who were, you know, telling it like it is.

Sterling Brown was there, and, uh, she was one of the few white liberals in the room.

And what these kids were saying, in effect, was, you know, 'White people don't know enough about us to be able to help us.

You know, white people say one thing and do another,' and all of this is absolutely true.

And she was terribly, terribly hurt, literally hurt.

And she said, 'I'm sure I done more for Negroes than they've ever done,' and I got mad and I said, 'That's exactly what they were saying -- they don't want you to do anything for Negroes.'

You know.

They want you to do it for you.

And she said, 'Well, I'm not willing to damage my child,' she says, and I said, 'Well, then forget it.'

After all, speaking for myself, you know, it's kind of an insult.

Here I am, you know, as they say, 'no visible scars.'

I'm not -- I'm not isolated.

I got a family, you know...


...and a history.

And I got nieces and nephews.

I can't protect them, you know.

They're in tremendous danger every hour that they live just because they're black, not because they're wicked, you know.

And I mean this from the baby niece to the oldest nephew, who is soon gonna be 16.

Now, if this is the way that they are, you know, and I know that every time I leave my nephew, I don't know what'll happen to him by the time I see him again, I mean, not only inside but physically...


How can you expect me to take seriously somebody who says, 'I'm willing to fight for you, but I can't afford to let... I can't afford to let my children be damaged.'

And furthermore, how can I take seriously somebody who doesn't realize that their children are being damaged by this, by the continuation of this system?

You can't, you know, you can't serve, as they say, two masters.

You know, the liberal can't be safe and heroic, too.

In other words, he wants it to come full-face if gets behind the safety zone.

Yes. That's right.

That's right.

He's with you but, um, not when the going gets rough.

And though, really, what I really mean about him is that he doesn't... If you can think of in those terms and you don't see the gravity of the situation, you don't see that we are living in a segregated society and this does terrible things to my child and does terrible things to your child, too... If you don't see that, then I don't think you see anything.

And most of the liberals do not see that.

One of the great American illusions, one of the great American necessities is to believe that I, poor benighted black man whom they saved from... ...elephant-ridden jungles of Africa and to whom they brought the Bible... still grateful for that.

And people say, in many, many ways -- not only in the South, all over this country -- in effect, we should be grateful, even slavery.

'They released you from that.

You're no longer dodging tsetse flies in some backward country.'

Well, I know this, and anyone who's ever tried to live knows this -- that what you say about somebody else, you know, anybody else, reveals you.

What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessities, my own psychology, my own, um, fears and desires.

I'm not describing you when I talk about you.

I'm describing me.

Now here, in this country, we've got something called a nigger.

But it doesn't, in such terms, I beg you to remark, exist in any other country in the world.

We have invented the nigger.

I didn't invent him.

White people invented him.

I've always known -- I had to know by the time I was 17 years old that what you were describing was not me and what you were afraid of was not me.

It had to be something else.

You had invented it.

So it had to be something you were afraid of.

You invested me with it.

Now, if that's so, no matter what you've done to me, I can say to you this.

And I mean it.

I know you can't do any more, and I've got nothing to lose.

And I know, and I have always known, you know, and really always, that's probably agony.

I've always known that I'm not a nigger.

But if I am not the nigger... And if it's true that your invention reveals you... ...then who is the nigger?

I am not the victim here.

I know one thing from another.

I was born, and I'm gonna be -- You know, I was born, I'm gonna suffer, and I'm gonna die.

The only way you can get through life is to know the worst things about it.

I know that a person is more important than anything else.

Anything else.

I learned this because I've had to learn it.

But you still think, I gather, that the nigger is necessary.

Well, he's unnecessary to me.

So he must be necessary to you.

And I give you your problem back.

You're the nigger, baby.

It isn't me.

'Take This Hammer,' filmed with James Baldwin in the spring of 1963, was produced for National Educational Television by the KQED Film Unit, San Francisco.

This is NET, National Educational Television.