Letter from Birmingham Jail

Letter from Birmingham Jail

16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergyman:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

James Baldwin is perhaps America's greatest essayist and if not, he definitely is one of the greatest writers the world has ever produced. In this instance, Baldwin sings a hymn a capella. 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand' was written in 1932 by Thomas Dorsey. He wrote it in Chicago, Illinois, after his wife Nettie died while giving birth to a child (who also died shortly thereafter). Dorsey sang the song for his friend, Gospel singer Theodore Frye, and Frye’s choir sang it the next Sunday at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was the favorite hymn of Dr. Martin Luther King and this very recording was played at the James Baldwin's own funeral at Riverside Church in 1987.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on through the light
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

When my way grows dreary
Precious Lord, lead me near
When my life is almost gone
At the river I will stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand, precious Lord
And lead me home

A New Birth of Freedom

A New Birth of Freedom

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

A More Perfect Union

A More Perfect Union

At the height his historic bid for the presidency, then-Senator Barack Obama found himself in the middle of controversy. His hometown pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had made comments from the pulpit that cast America in a less than exceptional light. Of course, Senator Obama own's patriotism was called into question and he responded with an attempt to contextualize Rev. Wright's comments and his own upbringing within the broader and wholly complex conversation about race in America. 

Here is a transcript of the speech:


Much has been said about Kanye West. His artistry, his persona, and his genius all have been awarded and questioned, lauded and condemned. Produced in 2010, 'Runaway' is set to songs from his fifth studio album, 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy', and depicts a romance between a man and a woman who is half-phoenix. Inspired by the works of Michael Jackson, Pablo Picasso, Federico Fellini, and Karl Lagerfeld, West's short film is a representation of his own artistic sensibilities and runs parallel to his music career.

Farewell to Model T

see by the new Sears Roebuck catalogue that it is still possible to buy an axle for a 1909 Model T Ford, but I am not deceived. The great days have faded, and the end is in sight. Only one page in the current catalogue is devoted to parts and accessories for the Model T; yet everyone remembers springtimes when the Ford gadget section was larger than men's clothing, almost as large as household furnishings. The last Model T was built in 1927, and the car is fading from what scholars call the American scene - which is an understatement, because to a few million people who grew up with it, the old Ford practically was the American scene. It was the miracle that God had wrought.

Kanye and His Vanguard

Here is the transcript of Kanye West's VMA Vanguard acceptance speech:

“Bro. Bro! Listen to the kids. First of all, thank you, Taylor, for being so gracious and giving me this award this evening.

And I often think back to the first day I met you also. You know I think about when I’m in the grocery store with my daughter and I have a really great conversation about fresh juice… and at the end they say, ’Oh, you’re not that bad after all!’ And like I think about it sometimes. … It crosses my mind a little bit like when I go to a baseball game and 60,000 people boo me. Crosses my mind a little bit.

Sonnet XXIX

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state, 
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate, 
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, 
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope, 
With what I most enjoy contented least; 
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state, 
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings. 


November 22, 1963: a CBS News Bulletin

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. CBS's Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," delivered that news carrying the weight his own emotion and the emotion of an entire country. President Kennedy's death was an not only an occasion to mourn the loss of a youthful and vigorous commander-in-chief but also a development in a series of unfortunate events that seemed to plague America in the 1960s. His fleeting presidency would be remembered for his call to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" and his proclamation of a torch passed to a new generation of Americans.

Nixon: June 23, 1972

This is now known as the smoking gun tape. It is the transcript of the recorded audio from inside the Oval Office six days after the break-in at Watergate. From 10:04AM to 11:39AM, President Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, discuss approaching Richard Helms, Director of the CIA, and Vernon A. Walters, Deputy Director, to ask them to request L. Patrick Gray, Acting Director of the FBI, halt the FBI's investigation into the Watergate break-in on the grounds that it was a national security matter. The special prosecutor felt that Nixon, in so agreeing, had entered into a criminal conspiracy whose goal was the obstruction of justice. On August 5, 1974, the tape was made public. On August 8, President Nixon became the first American president to resign from office.

Bernstein on Beethoven

Leonard Bernstein is the ultimate master of his class. Luckily for us, that makes him both a brilliant talent for musical composition and a profound gift for musical pedagogy. In this footage, Bernstein and Maximilian Schell attempt to unearth the meaning behind Beethoven's 6th and 7th symphony. In understanding the story and process of how these pieces came to be, they can be heard with an understanding that is perhaps truer to Beethoven's original intent. Bernstein makes the case that Beethoven was less concerned with melodies and more focused on constructing music that is "so unpredictable and yet so right."

What Educated Women Can Do

An ancient Sanskrit saying says, woman is the home and the home is the basis of society. It is as we build our homes that we can build our country. If the home is inadequate -- either inadequate in material goods and necessities or inadequate in the sort of friendly, loving atmosphere that every child needs to grow and develop -- then that country cannot have harmony and no country which does not have harmony can grow in any direction at all.

Four Women

Four Black women, all with vastly different life stories, converge in this Nina Simone tour-de-force. They have more in common than the experiences they indiviually possess and Simone's performance is true to that spirit. It was written and recorded for the 1966 album, 'Wild is the Wind'. Thalami Davis of The Village Voice has called the song "an instantly accessible analysis of the damning legacy of slavery, that made iconographic the real women we knew and would become."

My skin is black
My arms are long
My hair is woolly
My back is strong
Strong enough to take the pain
inflicted again and again
What do they call me
My name is AUNT SARAH
My name is Aunt Sarah

My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
My father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
What do they call me
My name is SAFFRONIA
My name is Saffronia

My skin is tan
My hair is fine
My hips invite you
my mouth like wine
Whose little girl am I?
Anyone who has money to buy
What do they call me
My name is SWEET THING
My name is Sweet Thing

My skin is brown
my manner is tough
I'll kill the first mother I see
my life has been too rough
I'm awfully bitter these days
because my parents were slaves
What do they call me
My name is PEACHES

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Langston Hughes wrote this poem on a train to visit his father in Mexico. He was 17 and inspired while crossing the Mississippi to write this verse which later was published in 1921 in The Crisis, the NAACP's literary magazine. He was most influenced by the work of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman as he attempts to reflect on the legacy of his ancestors and triumphantly places them in important historical, religious, and cultural sites around the world.

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.