Sunday, October 25, 2009

James Baldwin visits San Francisco in 1963 to explore the lives of urban youth

In 1963, the author James Baldwin came to San Francisco to explore the increasing sense of bitterness and isolation felt by urban youths in America. He chose San Francisco in order to peer beneath its veneer of liberal acceptance. He found a city that he declared was no better than Birmingham, Alabama. Racism and discrimination were everywhere, if a little more genteelly hidden.

A KQED television crew followed Baldwin and produced a show called "Take This Hammer." You can see the video here on the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive website.

The video is interesting for its view of San Francisco and for the views expressed by African-Americans living here. The camera follows Baldwin on a road winding into the city and it looks like the road from the airport before it became the lovely highway we know today as 101. There are shots of the Bayview district and a housing project.

Baldwin goes to a community meeting in Bayview where he tries to assess the mood of the black community. In one amazing exchange, a mother declares "There will never be a Negro president in this country. If you can't get a job, how can there be a Negro president?"

Baldwin disagrees and predicts there will be a black president one day, but it will be in a country that looks very different than the United States in 1963.

It only took 45 years for Baldwin's prediction to come true.

(via Laila Lalimi and Maud Newton)

1 comment:

nanisteele said...

Frances- Probably around that same year, James Baldwin drove down to Nepenthe to give a talk. My grandmother, very much wanting to do something for the "movement" as she considered it, invited him to share his truth and read from his books, in which he did, but not before launching into an attack on what he considered the bourgeois community gathered around. It was a bittersweet of the old Carmel folk, told me in a recent interview, though-that Baldwin sat around the bar that same night with my grandfather riveting everyone with stories and later they all hung out at the original Doc Rickets in Cannery Row.

Thankful he could see beyond the 60s and imagine a world with a black president-and yet still, with more work to be done. Thanks for sharing.