James Baldwin was a playwright, poet, novelist, and activist working in tandem with the growing social impulse towards equality and common human decency in the United States.
His art was groundbreaking for the time and is noted for its brilliant technique and deeply resonating stories about the trouble of living through an unjust and inflexible era, with the exploration of racial and social issues in his works.
One of his most famous works is The Fire Next Time, while another famous work of his is his first major novel published in 1953, Go Tell It on the Mountain.
Perhaps more than anyone else at that time, James Baldwin understood the pressures those unaccepted by society face — whether that be due to race, sexuality, class, or all three. His art reflected this, and powerful James Baldwin quotes still resonate to this day.
As a gay Black man, his work and his involvement in the civil rights movement were shaped by his identity.
As an activist, Baldwin and Martin Luther King Jr., were two important figures during the 1950s and 60s, while the two had great respect for each other, Baldwin — a gay Black, atheist — and MLK could not be more different.
James Baldwin was not religious and stood against the teachings of Christianity as it was influential in justifying slavery and racism.
When it came to disagreements, Baldwin held a firm belief that “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
He understood its unique ability to shine a spotlight on things that go unspoken or undiscussed. And over the course of an incredible life, he left us with numerous distillations of his wisdom.
The world is still in need of change and Baldwin worked towards bringing about equality.
More than anything, James Baldwin wanted to see greater justice for African Americans in the legal system. He strove for equal rights and treatment.
Unfortunately, today we are still largely fighting for the same just Baldwin worked towards decades ago. In the past few months, sparked by the unnecessary death of George Floyd, justice has been at the forefront of all of our minds throughout the world.
With the spark of massive protests and riots, the world is trying to find a way to ensure that African Americans have the same rights as everyone else and that they are not treated differently.
This is the same thing Baldwin was trying to accomplish during his prominent time in the civil rights movement.
While Baldwin died in 1987 at 63 years old, but his legacy lives on through his works. His quotes are powerful and iconic.
One of James Baldwin’s most popular are powerful quotes is, “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
So we’ve put together a list together for you to learn from and remember that this conversation is not over yet.
Best James Baldwin Quotes
1. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.”
2. “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.”
3. “People can cry much easier than they can change.”
4. “To accept one’s past — one’s history — is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”
5. “Ordinary things are behind a talent; discipline, love, luck, but above all — patience.”
6. “Every human being is an unprecedented miracle.”
7. “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
8. “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.”
9. “You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back.” ―Giovanni’s Room
10. “The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”
11. “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.” —If Beale Street Could Talk
12. “Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore.” ―Giovanni’s Room
13. “You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.”
14. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
15. “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.”
16. “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”
17. “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. ”
18. “When you’re writing you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know.”
19. “History is not a procession of illustrious people. It’s about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about.”
20. “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also so much more than that. So are we all.”
21. “Everyone wishes to be loved, but in the event, nearly no one can bear it. Everyone desires love but also finds it impossible to believe that he deserves it.” ―Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone
22. “Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.”
23. “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter.”
24. “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
25. “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.”
26. “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within,”
27. “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.”
28. “Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.”
29. “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
30. “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”
31. “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”
32. “The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”
33. “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
34. “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
35. “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Matthew Ameduri is a writer who covers astrology, pop culture, and relationship topics.