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Extra resources for African American Political Thought and American Culture: The Nation’s Struggle for Racial Justice
33 An outward gaze prevented Northern and Southern whites from looking inward. Black voting rights, political voice and growing defiance became either the object of their unflinching, animus-filled glares or glowing pride. Nonetheless, their belief in their own abstract patriotic myths, tropes of honor, fantasies of sexual purity, valor and faith in justice remained unshaken. Baldwin believed that what was missing here was both the corrective to this world-view and what both camps misunderstood: “Human freedom is a complex, difficult—private—thing.
61 Just months before the speech, white racial violence in Birmingham, Alabama became known to the nation. Birmingham safety commissioner, Bull Connor, authorized city police officers to use attack dogs upon nonviolent, young black protestors and white terrorists murdered four young black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. 63 There was no redemptive telos, no salvation. The very individual rationality Locke and Hobbes believed made possible a social contract, community and political action was entirely absent.
As for freedom, I will tell you what 36 A f r i c a n A m e r i c a n P o l i t i c a l T h o u g h t a n d C u lt u r e I know about freedom, and you will think I don’t have any political sense. I know that James Forman, for example, and many of the students he leads, are much, much freer than most of the white people I know in this country. For that matter, I am too. The reason is, I think, the reason is that in order to be free—let’s look some facts of your life in the face—you have to look into yourself and know who you are, at least know who you are, and decide what you want or at least what you will not have, and will not be, and take it from there.