James Baldwin: Witty, Fiery in Berkeley, 1979

Hot on the heels of Independence Day, here’s a chance to listen to one of America’s best writers declaring his own form of Independence — a freedom from some of the more troubling assumptions embedded in the English language. Starting with a dry, mild questioning of phrases like “black as night,” “black-hearted,” and “black as sin,” Baldwin turns quickly to a critique of the name of the civil rights movement itself, which he suggests would be more accurately described as a slave rebellion.

The logic and eloquence with which Baldwin makes his case is much better savored than explained. Enjoy the clip, and especially make sure not to miss his remarks on Huck Finn at minute 3:00, or the lovely description of Malcolm X at about minute 5:00. And, to be sure, we’ll add this to our collection of Cultural Icons.

Related Content:

Great Cultural Icons Talk Civil Rights

Malcolm X at Oxford, 1964

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

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