Vital Moments From “I Am Not Your Negro"
“I Am Not Your Negro” is an amazing Raoul Peck-directed documentary based on writer and social critic James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript “Remember This House.” Samuel L. Jackson narrates the film, which digs into racism and the civil rights movement. Everyone should see it! Here are 5 moments from the movie that impacted me the most.
1. Dorothy Counts's first day of school
James Baldwin recalled seeing photos of a 15-year-old Dorothy Counts on the first day of school, where she was the first black student to attend an all-white High School in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1957. The pics showed her “being reviled and spat upon by the mob as she made her way to school,” he wrote. “It made me furious and filled me with both hatred and pity and it made me ashamed.” It really struck me when James wrote, “Some one of us should have been there with her.” Dorothy’s parents pulled her from the school after she endured 4 days of harassment.
2. Lorraine Hansberry asks Robert Kennedy for a moral commitment
In 1963 James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, the author of the play “A Raisin in the Sun,” met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to request that he tell his brother, President John F. Kennedy, “to personally escort to school a small black girl already scheduled to enter a deep south school," James wrote. “‘That way,’ we said, ‘It will be clear that whoever spits on that child will be spitting on the nation.'” James quotes Robert as saying this would be “a meaningless moral gesture.” Lorraine asked Robert for a moral commitment. She told him she was worried about “the state of the civilization” that produced a photograph of a white cop standing on a black women’s neck in Birmingham, Alabama. Robert’s reply was shocking. “He looked insulted,” wrote James.
3. Medgar Evers's civil rights fight
James Baldwin’s writing about the lives and deaths of civil rights activists Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers is quoted throughout the movie. Lesser-known Medgar, who was the NAACP’s first field secretary for Mississippi, fought against things like segregation at the University of Mississippi and of public beaches. He was murdered in his own driveway in front of his wife and children in 1963.
4. Jumping from a train in "The Defiant Ones"
James Baldwin wrote about the public perception of the 1958 movie “The Defiant Ones,” starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. At one point Sidney, playing an escaped prisoner, jumps off a train with Tony, also playing an escaped convict. “When Sidney jumps off the train, the white liberal people downtown were much relieved and joyful,” wrote James. “But when black people saw him jump off a train they yelled, ‘Get back on the train you fool!’ The black man jumps off the train in order to reassure people, to make them know they are not hated. Though they have made human errors, they have done nothing for which to be hated.”
5. James Baldwin drops knowledge on "The Dick Cavett Show"
When James Baldwin appeared on "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1968 he went in about double standards. He talks about a white person picking up a weapon and demanding independence and getting applause. “…when any white man in the world says give me liberty or give me death, the entire white world applauds. When a black man says exactly the same thing, word for word, he is judged a criminal and treated like one and everything possible is done to make an example of this bad n*gger so there won’t be any more like him.”
Image Credit: Getty