James Baldwin Interview That Was Shelved For 42 Years Resurfaces

The legendary author talks white fragility and more.

A 1979 interview from James Baldwin has mysteriously resurfaced on the Internet, and the writer’s words when heard today are just as relevant as they were 42 years ago. 

The interview was conducted by ABC’s 20/20 but was shelved “because they thought no one would be interested,” according to television producer Joseph Lovett back in September of 2020. Lovett didn’t disclose who made the statement or what was their role on the long-running magazine news show..

On Instagram, Lovett explained, “I had been reading [Baldwin] since I was a teenager. I thought he was brilliant and brave and speaking to the moment of history that we were all living in. I was thrilled; I was beyond thrilled.”

Lovett continued, “He was brilliant, utterly brilliant. We couldn’t have been happier. He was such an eloquent, masterful speaker, with such a great mind. It was such a privilege.”

RELATED: 12 Days of Pride: Celebrating James Baldwin

The interview was conducted by journalist Sylvia Chase, who passed away in 2019.  She interviewed the thinker and scribe, at his home in New York City to promote his nineteenth book Just Above My Head.

In the powerful interview, Baldwin, who was 55 at the time, said, “White people go around, it seems to me, with a very carefully suppressed terror of Black people—a tremendous uneasiness. They don’t know what the Black face hides. They’re sure it’s hiding something. What it’s hiding is American history. What it’s hiding is what white people know they have done, and what they like doing.”
He also added, “White people know very well one thing; it’s the only thing they have to know. They know this; everything else, they’ll say, is a lie. They know they would not like to be Black here. They know that, and they’re telling me lies. They’re telling me and my children nothing but lies.”

The footage also includes a rare interview with Baldwin’s mother, Emma Berdis Jones.

Lovett revealed someone at ABC asked, “Who wants to listen to a Black gay has-been?”

“I was stunned,” Lovett said.  “I was absolutely stunned, because in my mind, James Baldwin was no has-been. He was a classic American writer, translated into every language in the world, who would live on forever, and indeed he has. His courage and his eloquence continue to inspire us today.”

Baldwin died on Dec. 1, 1987, in southern France.

It’s not clear who posted the 1979 interview which surfaced on Vimeo last week. Watch below: 

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