James Baldwin (1924-87) 1968 Interview on Race in America After Death of Martin Luther King Jr.

James Baldwin 1968 Interview on Race in America After Death of Martin Luther King Jr. // In Esquire’s July 1968 issue, published just after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the magazine talked to James Baldwin about the state of race relations in the country. On what would be the author’s 93rd birthday, we’ve republished the interview in full—and his words are incredibly relevant today.

Among the Presidential candidates, whom do you feel would be accepted as speaking in good faith? Richard Nixon?

You must be joking.

Nelson Rockefeller?

Maybe, that would depend very much on what he does now. I don’t put him down.

What about Robert Kennedy?

What about Robert Kennedy indeed! Bobby’s a very, very, very bright man. The best thing said about Bobby Kennedy, and I’m not trying to cop out on this, was said by Al Calloway in that rather curious issue about Soul that Esquire just did. Al said that if Soul could be studied and learned, he’d learn it. He’d study and learn, but it can’t be studied and learned. I’ve had one very publicized thing with Bobby so that anything I say is suspect. He’s very bright, and all the liberals will be on his bandwagon. He will probably be President. Almost surely he will be. And what can I say? I have to leave it open. I, myself, will not be on that bandwagon. I think he’s very shrewd but I think he’s absolutely col. I think he may prove to be, well, very dangerous.

He’s very attractive. He says all of the right things, you know, not always at the right time. And I can see the kind of appeal he’d have; after all, he is the brother of J.F.K. But I’m in another position. I have to be as clearheaded as I can be about it and look beyond the particular event or the particular man. I could not myself put my life in his hands.

Do you know of Eugene McCarthy?

Nothing at all. I can’t discuss him. But I ought to say that it’s been a very long time since I’ve had any respect for any politician. I have to say, too, that I’m looking through the political spectrum from the standpoint of my rather bitter forty-three years in this country. What I’m also saying is that if I endorse anybody, no matter what it means, I don’t want to tell black people to vote for so-and-so or him or her because I don’t want to be killed by those black people when they discover they’ve been betrayed.

Hubert Humphrey?

Forget it.

Do you care to expand on that?

No, just forget it. I point to his record since he became Vice-President. The flaming liberal.

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