James Baldwin before Beale Street

As racial unrest roiled the United States in the 1960s, the writer and thinker talked to reporter Moses Znaimer for CBC's The Way It Is.

Writer spoke to CBC's Moses Znaimer about racial realities in the U.S. in 1968

Writer James Baldwin on race in America

3 years ago
Duration 2:58
In 1968 James Baldwin talks to interviewer Moses Znaimer about the future of race relations in America.

The 2018 movie If Beale Street Could Talk has been nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay.

That screenplay was adapted from a 1974 novel of the same name by the American writer James Baldwin (1924-1987).

In this Sept. 18, 1963 file photo, author James Baldwin, right, and Bayard Rustin, deputy director of the March on Washington, discuss civil rights incidents in Alabama during a news conference in New York. (File/Associated Press)

As a guest on CBC-TV in 1960, Baldwin spent much of his lengthy conversation with host Nathan Cohen discussing the experience of being black in the United States.

In 1968, just days after what he called "this wretched farce of an election," in which Richard Nixon won the presidency, Baldwin once again shared his rrespectives on CBC-TV's The Way It Is.

"To know about America today, about race in America, about sexuality in America, about passion and anguish in America," said host Patrick Watson by way of introduction, "I think you must read James Baldwin."

The interview was conducted by correspondent Moses Znaimer.

'End of the doctrine of white supremacy'

"One of the delusions of the century is that this is a race war, but it's not," said Baldwin. "It's a mask for the old, old war between poverty and privilege." 

Baldwin, who had yet to write If Beale Street Could Talk but had published three novels and several collections of essays, said he thought an era was coming to an end in the United States.

"I think we're living through the end of a doctrine," he said. "The end of the doctrine of white supremacy."

James Baldwin on the civil rights movement

3 years ago
Duration 1:40
"How much brutality do you expect people to be able to take?" asks the writer.

'The party's over'


It was six months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Baldwin was cynical about what the civil rights movement had achieved.

"How much indifference, how much brutality do you expect people to be able to take?" he asked. "After all that marching, and all that pain, all that damage, the country really did nothing except pass token laws and bills. But nothing changed."

Later in the eight-minute segment, Baldwin expressed hope for the future of his then six-month-old nephew.

"Finally, when the chips are down, I don't care what you do at all," he said. "But I'm not going to let you do anything to him.

"I'm not going to let him grow up the way I grew up... You can stand in my way, but you're not going to stand in his. The party's over."