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A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963 The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the conseuences of racial injustice the book is an intensely personal and provocative document It consists of two “letters” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation that exhort Americans both black and white to attack the terrible legacy of racism Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon ultimatum confession deposition testament and chronicleall presented in searing brilliant prose” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic of our literature

10 thoughts on “The Fire Next Time

  1. says:

    Black Tyranny and How to Overcome ItWe are what we read as well as what we eat Because what we read brings us experiences we have never had As Baldwin says elsewhere “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world but then you read” Reading The Fire Next Time cannot but change one's experience of the world Written an half century ago it sadly remains timeless Sadly because the position of the black man in the America of white racism has not been remedied White America still defines itself as 'not black' White America has no other unifying force Not religion not culture not history not even language Race is what determines all these things and The phrase Make America Great Again is not an abstraction It is a call to rally against the threat of loss of racial identity a threat which has been increased not diminished by the existence of a black man as president Baldwin knew this the danger in the minds of most white Americans is the loss of their identity those innocents who believe that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grip on reality If integration means anything this is what it means that we with love shall force our white brothers to see themselves as they areThe sight of a black president showed what black people are The task of finding what white people are has yet to be started Donald Trump knew his main chance lay not in directly exploiting American racism something too powerful for Americans to confront but in capitalising on American uncertainty the threat to Americans' own self image Baldwin diagnosed this precisely It is the individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives that makes the discussion let alone elucidation of any conundrum that is any reality so supremely difficult The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals precisely and inexorably what they do not know about themselvesTrump knows that without this touchstone of the self he can say and do anything with impunity Reality has no meaning Baldwin understood the conseuencesAmerican racism is best expressed in its religion an evangelical social virtually tribal Christianity which has transcended sectarian divisions and has become the Republican Party at prayer The foundation of this religion is not doctrinal but racial As Harold Bloom among others have noted the authentic American religion is a baptised Gnosticism the principle feature of which is the dualistic separation of the world into literally its light and dark components The belief in the ultimate triumph of the light is not a sterile spiritual metaphor; it is a pervasive concrete expectation From the point of view of black America Christianity had nothing to do with Faith Hope and Charity; Baldwin's experience is that it was designed to engender Blindness Loneliness and FearBaldwin understood the historical import Christianity and its American variant the 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 PaulFor Baldwin this is not merely an historical fact which is ignored by Christians it is the establishment of a pattern which culminates in the sanctification of white racism The struggle therefore that now begins in the world is extremely complex involving the historical role of Christianity in the realm of power that is politics and in the realm of morals From missionary activities in Africa to the enforced segregation of American churches even those like the Pentecostalists which had been founded by black people Christianity had been a persistent tool of black suppression Baldwin devotes a good proportion of the book to his meeting with Elijah Muhammad the leader of the militant Black Muslim movement He recognises the charismatic power of the movement's message and the inherent drive for power of its leaders So he distrusts them both But Muhammad's pronouncements to him about the state of the world and the future of America in it is eerily prescient in light of subseuent Islamic militancy around the world White people he points out are a global minority America has no natural allies in the non white world Baldwin concludes that the American dream has become something much closely resembling a nightmare on the private domestic and international levels We are an unmitigated disasterBaldwin's solution is probably as relevant and as distant as it was in the 1960's The White man's unadmitted and apparently to him unspeakable private fears and longings are projected onto the Negro The only way he can be released from the Negro's tyrannical power over him is to consent in effect to become black himself to become part of the suffering and dancing country that he now watches wistfully from the heights of his lonely power and armed with spiritual traveller's cheues visits surreptitiously after darkTo uote Trump What have you got to lose?”

  2. says:

    Baldwin doles out some tough love to the American people 100 years after Emancipation and also writes to his 14 year old nephew about the race issue in America I have never read any of Baldwin’s nonfiction so I was surprised at how frank and direct he wasThe letter to the American people was compelling to me than the one to his nephew It discussed the racist realities in the USA and also religion Christianity which James Baldwin adhered to for a while at least and the Nation of Islam NOI The meeting he recounted between himself and the NOI leader Elijah Muhammad was very interesting Muhammad saw Caucasians as white devils while Baldwin's view was “whoever debases others is debasing himself” Despite the fact that I am a Christian I agree wholeheartedly with Baldwin’s analysis of the Christian church at the time its racism black people are a cursed race descendants of Ham and its hypocrisy It's something I've thought about a lotAgain I’m shocked about how little things have changed since the 1960s Baldwin makes the point that “the sloppy and fatuous nature of American good will can never be relied upon to deal with hard problems” Sadly I think we can substitute America with pretty much any country on the planetDespite the frankness I don’t think this is an angry book at allThis isn’t a misguided rant about race this was written based on Baldwin's personal experiences and is hopeful and also offers solutions As a writer during the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement I feel Baldwin felt the real need to get things off his chest I will never be able to understand how cruelly African Americans were treated No wonder Baldwin feared for African Americans’ identity crisis no wonder he felt the need to encourage and preserve the arts in his community James Baldwin is amazing

  3. says:

    This little book had been on my long “to read” list for many years but when I heard its first essay “My Dungeon Shook” was the inspiration for Ta Nahisi Coates’ Between the World and Me I moved the book right up to the top I am glad I didAt first though I was disappointed The essay “My Dungeon Shook”—the model for Coates epistolary device the way he addresses his young son directly as Baldwin once addressed his nephew here—is short relatively insignificant compared to “Down at the Cross” the essay which fills the rest of the bookNot that “My Dungeon Shook” is without value It is particularly powerful when it speaks of how racial oppression has caused even damage to white people than to black people because it has made them unable to see reality as it is They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it they cannot be released from it  They have had to believe for so many years and for innumerable reasons that black men are inferior to white men  Many of them indeed know better but as you will discover people find it very difficult to act on what they know  To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger  In this case the danger in the minds of most white Americans is the loss of identity  Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflameWell the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star as an immovable pillar and as he moves out of his place heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations It was however “Down at the Cross” with its treatment of religion in the black community that interested me Then as I was absorbed in Baldwin’s account of his childhood growing up in Harlem I encountered the following passage The fear that I heard in my father’s voice for example when he realized that I really believed I could do anything a white boy could do and had every intention of proving it was not at all like the fear I heard when one of us was ill or had fallen down the stairs or strayed too far from the house It was another fear a fear that the child in challenging the white world’s assumptions was putting himself in the path of destruction A child cannot thank Heaven know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other He reacts to the fear in his parents’ voices because his parents hold up the world for him and he has no protection without themThat 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 Here we see the essence of what Coates learned from Baldwin to identify the fear which controlled his vision of the world Although he never sought to evade his fears by seeking refuge in the church—as Baldwin briefly did even becoming a “boy preacher”—his fears controlled him nevertheless and blocked out reality standing between the world and meI’ll end with this passage where Baldwin describes his memories of the church services he led It is among other things an excellent example of his style There is no music like that music no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing the sinners moaning the tambourines racing and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the Lord There is still for me no pathos uite like the pathos of those multicolored worn somehow triumphant and transfigured faces speaking from the depths of a visible tangible continuing despair of the goodness of the Lord I have never seen anything to eual the fire and excitement that sometimes without warning fill a church causing the church as Leadbelly and so many others have testified to rock Nothing that has happened to me since euals the power and the glory that I sometimes felt when in the middle of a sermon I knew that I was somehow by some miracle really carrying as they said “the Word”—when the church and I were one Their pain and their joy were mine and mine were theirs—they surrendered their pain and joy to me I surrendered mine to them and their cries of “Amen” and “Hallelujah” and “Yes Lord’ ” and “Praise His name” and “Preach it brother” sustained and whipped on my solos until we all became eual wringing wet singing and dancing in anguish and rejoicing at the foot of the altar It was for a long time in spite of—or not inconceivably because of—the shabbiness of my motives my only sustenance my meat and drink I rushed home from school to the church to the altar to be alone there to commune with Jesus my dearest Friend who would never fail me who knew all the secrets of my heart Perhaps He did but I didn’t and the bargain we struck actually down there at the foot of the cross was that He would never let me find outHe failed his bargain He was a much better Man than I took Him for

  4. says:

    And all this is happening in the richest and freest country in the world and in the middle of the 20th century The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur and you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spinelessBaldwin considers this after he and two friends in their thirties were refused service at a busy bar in O'Hare Airport 'because they were too young' The Fire Next Time remains sadly pertinent despite publication in 1962 The first section titled 'My Dungeon Shook Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation' muses on society and exhorts his nephew to meet it with dignity and love The second section 'Down at the Cross Letter from a Region in My Mind' begins like a memoir develops into political analysis and ends with a sermon It is devastatingly brilliant and near the end I found myself highlighting uotes nearly every page But I'm clearly not the only one who has read his work one of the oddest aspects for me is that I have read both writers and poets who were influenced by him as I heard their echoes in his writingHow can one however dream of power in any other terms then in the symbols of power? Baldwin bringing immediately to mind Audre Lorde The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house'Down at the Cross' begins from adolescent years when James was fourteen and underwent a prolonged religious crisis It was a fascinating recounting giving the feel of Harlem of a particular time and looked at how religion became the way he coped with the perils of growing up and yet how in many ways it was no less controlling or harmful to the soul than the whores or the pimps or the racketeers on the Avenue For a short time he was known at the boy preacher and while it gave him some freedom from his father his faith was only an infirm illusionI date it – the slow crumbling of my faith the pulverization of my fortress from the time about a year after I had begun to preach when I began to read again I justified this desire by the fact that I was still in school and I began fatally with DostoevskiI loved that words and writing were his real salvation He muses on the role of the church and his breaking with religious faith before seguing to a meeting with Elijah Muhammad recalling me to The Autobiography of Malcolm X Baldwin was clearly uncomfortable confronting his own echoes of churchgoing but felt the limitations of the Nation of Islam were no better than those of Christianity ie a failure to dream of something outside the paradigm He noted that the young follower who drove him to his next appointment in an expensive car that the Nation was still conceiving of power in the same terms that white people defined it and in owning land of their ownHe was held together in short by a dream though it is just as well to remember that some dreams come true and was united with his 'brothers' on the basis of their color Perhaps one cannot ask for People always seem to band together in accordance to a principle that has nothing to do with love a principle that releases them from personal responsibilityHe then spirals off into the musing on human nature the relationship between blacks and whites and linking them both to the spiritual as well as the political It's an extraordinary achievement the way one thought leads to the next and the next and suddenly you've run into a philosophical truth that touches the soul The truth I recognizedIt seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death ought to decide indeed to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life One is responsible to life It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return One must negotiate this passage is nobly as possible for the sake of those who are coming after us It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant birth struggle and death are constant and so is love though we may not always think so and to apprehend the nature of change to be able and willing to change I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths change in the sense of renewal But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not safety for example or money or power One clings then to chimeras by which one can only be betrayal and the entire home the entire possibility of freedom disappearsSomehow I've never read James Baldwin Despite a rather liberal high school we still read far too many of the 'classics' and I for one will never read Dickens again College was Women's Studies when I ventured outside the sciences a reading list universally written by women My free time fun time reading just never ran into Baldwin perhaps because I stay away from lit fic like the plague Now that I am finally class free on than one level snort I find myself gravitating towards the occasional non fiction What I discovered is that Baldwin writes lyrical exacting prose clear and yet somehow poetic with a belief in love and in dreaming better I loved immersing myself in his writing I rather wish I was in a classroom of people with whom I could wrestle with these ideas

  5. says:

    At 106 pages The Fire Next Time is a brief snapshot of US race relations in 1963 Like a balance sheet it concisely details the nation's racial strengths and considerable shortcomings It was published one year before LBJ's Great Society program passed Congress which for the first time in the nation's history sought to address longstanding racial injustices Baldwin describes the unrelenting degradation faced by black Americans both white indifference and murderous hostility toward them in a spare unadorned prose whose effect is harrowing At the time of its publication it must have scared bigoted white people shitless Yet it was also a prescription for change and much of the change it calls for has come to pass That is not to say that today we are without racial problems Black Lives Matter that's irrefutable but if you want to know how truly god awful it was in the bad old lynching days this is the book one of the few that you must read

  6. says:

    If we and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks who must like lovers insist on or create the consciousness of the others do not falter in our duty now we may be able handful that we are to end the racial nightmare and achieve our country and change the history of the world If we do not now dare everything the fulfillment of that prophesy re created from the Bible in a song by a slave is upon usGod gave Noah the rainbow sign No water the fire next time James Baldwin The Fire Next TimeI just couldn't watch the second GOP debates tonight I knew I couldn't face the Donald and his band of eually exuisite misfits I'm not exactly in love with the Democrats either but the GOP clown car is just too long too tiring too damn depressing So I turned my TV off tuned out and read me some James Baldwin You could say Ta Nehisi Coates brought me here after reading Between the World and Me Or perhaps it has been these last couple years of official violence directed at the poor and the black in many of our biggest cities St Louis Balti Las Angeles New York Or perhaps I could also say that Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain also brought me here Perhaps it was reading the Old Testament with my own teenage children that pushed me in this direction Or perhaps even the promise of the New Testament Maybe it was my despair over the way that 14 year old Muslim boy was treated with his homemade clock I needed tonight a poetic healing and a spiritual justice An Old Testament warning with a New Testament salve and a black rhythm I needed James Baldwin's force his poetry his humanist hope his infinitely uotable words God his prose is poetic I literally ran out of post it notes as I read this 106 page thesis laid at the feet of his namesake nephew God this book was beginning to end sad and moving and powerful and beautiful; and so now writing this and glancing at the highlights lowlights of the GOP debates I can securely say I made the right damn choice tonight

  7. says:

    Fantastic Reuired reading

  8. says:

    Written during the battle for Civil Rights in the early 60s Baldwin's impassioned call to action in The Fire Next Time is unmistakable Racism in America has had a devastating effect on African Americans and White Americans Baldwin challenges us to see past the signs Colored and White which divide us Accepting the artificial barriers of segregation may not be wicked but denying our fellow citizens dignity is both racist and most assuredly spineless Baldwin claims people cling to their hatred and bigotry because hate gives them a purpose as well as an identity It allows them to deflect the pain of their own lives However such thinking traps them in a history or story which doesn't make sense and further detaches them from reality States Baldwin They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it they cannot be released from it Baldwin's words are still powerful Still relevant

  9. says:

    All policeman have by now for me become exactly the same and my style with them is designed simply to intimidate them before they can intimidate me No doubt I am guilty of some injustice here but it is irreducible since I cannot risk assuming that the humanity of these people is real to them than their uniforms James Baldwin in 1964Fuck the police coming straight from the undergroundA young nigga got it bad cause I'm brownAnd not the other color so police thinkThey have the authority to kill a minority Ice Cube in 1988The police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreactionResent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed Ta Nehisi Coates in 2015It feels like there's only one new thing about the Black Lives Matter movement and that's cell phones Now people can record policemen destroying bodies and show it to people who weren't there who have never been there The destruction has always happened The evidence is what's new But there's a big difference between The Fire Next Time and its descendant Coates's Between the World and Me Baldwin in giddy 1964 before the assassinations of Malcolm X 1965 and MLK 1968 thought real change was coming The end of white people An African American nation Everything seemed possible Baldwin's title refers to a spiritualGod gave Noah the rainbow signNo water the fire next timeThis is a warning He wants a revolution for his nephew to whom this book is written Coates fifty years later is just trying to protect his son's bodyIt's not that nothing has happened Things got better are better It just wasn't exactly a revolution More of a twitching of the needle Black people have a president but their bodies still aren't safeBut it's thrilling to read this dispatch from a time when people thought a revolution might be a good thing James Baldwin is one of the great voices of the 20th century and this book is smashing

  10. says:

    45 starsI'm sure I will revisit this again possibly even uite soon It's short but there is so much to unpack and it's so excellently written I can see why this is a staple of Baldwin's oeuvre and one of the most influential non fiction works of the last century