James Baldwin’s Letter to Angela Davis

An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis
November 19,1970

Dear Sister:

One might have hoped that, by this hour, the very sight of chains on black flesh … would be so intolerable a sight for the American people, and so unbearable a memory, that they would spontaneously rise up and strike off the manacles. But, now, more than ever, Americans appear to measure their safety in the chains and corpses of others. And so, Newsweek, can put you on its cover, chained.

You look exceedingly alone—as alone, say, as the Jewish housewife in the boxcar headed for Dachau, or as any one of our ancestors, chained together during the ocean passage. …

Well. Since we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal, I have been making as much noise as I can, here in Europe, on radio and TV. In fact, I have just returned from a land, Germany, which was made notorious by a silent majority not so very long ago. …

Let me put it this way. As long as white Americans take refuge in their whiteness… they will allow millions of other people to be slaughtered... So long as their whiteness puts so sinister a distance between their own experience and the experience of others, they will never feel themselves sufficiently worthwhile to become responsible for themselves. As we once put it in our black church, they will perish in their sins—that is, in their delusions. … [Emphasis added]

Now we do feel ourselves sufficiently worthwhile to change our fate and the fate of our children! … We know that a person is not a thing and is not to be placed at the mercy of things. We know that air and water belong to all mankind and not merely to the wealthy. We know that a baby does not come into the world merely to be the instrument of someone else’s profit. ..

My dear sister Angela, some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring a new consciousness. If we know that, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is. We must render impassable with our own bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.

Therefore: peace.

Brother James