American novelist James Baldwin sits in front of his typewriter in the study of his home in St. Paul de Vence, in southern France, on March 21, 1983. (AP Photo)
The article originally appeared in the September 29, 1979, issue of The Nation.
I met Martin Luther King Jr. before I met Andrew Young. I know that Andy and I met only because of Martin. Andy was, in my mind, and not because he ever so described himself, Martin’s “right-hand man.” He was present—absolutely present. He saw what was happening. He took upon himself his responsibility for knowing’what he knew, and for seeing what he saw. I have heard Andy attempt to describe himself only once: when he was trying to clarify something about me, to someone else. So, I learned, one particular evening, what his Christian ministry meant to him. Let me spell that out a little.
The text comes from the New Testament, ‘Matthew 25:40: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I am in the strenuous and far from dull position of having news to deliver to the Western world—for example: black is not a synonym for slave. Do not, I counsel you, attempt to defend yourselves against this stunning, unwieldy and undesired message. You will hear it again: indeed, this is the only message the Western world is likely to be hearing from here on out.
I put it in this somewhat astringent fashion because it is necessary, and because I speak, now, as the grandson of a slave, a direct descendant of a born-again Christian. My conversion, as Countee Cullen puts it, came high-priced/I belong to Jesus Christ. I am also speaking as an ex-minister of the Gospel, and therefore, as one of the born again. I was instructed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison. I am far indeed from my youth, and from my father’s house, but I have not forgotten these instructions, and I pray upon my soul that I never will. The people who call themselves “born again” today have simply become members of the richest, most exclusive private club in the world, a club that the man from Galilee could not possibly hope—or wish—to enter.
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. That is a hard saying. It is hard to live with that. It is a merciless description of our responsibility for one another. It is that hard light under which one makes the moral choice. That the Western world has forgotten that such a thing as the moral choice exists, my history, my flesh, and my soul bear witiness. So, if I may say so, does the predicament into which the world’s most celebrated born-again Christian has managed to hurl Mr. Andrew Young.
Let us not belabor the obvious truth that what the Western world calls an “energy” crisis ineptly disguises what happens when you can no longer control markets, are chained to your colonies (instead of vice versa), are running out of slaves (and can’t trust those you think you still have), can’t, upon rigorously sober reflection, really send the Marines, or the Royal Navy, anywhere, or risk a global war, have no alIies—only business partners, or “satellites”—and have broken every promise you ever made, anywhere, to anyone. I know what I am talking about: my grandfather never got the promised "forty acres, and a mule," the Indians who survived that holocaust are either on reservations or dying in the streets, and not a single treaty between the United States and the Indian was ever honored. That is quite a record.