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James Baldwin Quotes on Love, Freedom and Education

These James Baldwin quotes will show you that words have the power to spark change.

A grandson of a slave, James Baldwin used his roots to help define his future and inspire millions with his written word. If you’ve never felt that words have the power to open the minds of others, you will after reading these incredible James Baldwin quotes.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, and social critic who garnered acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality and humanity.

Regarded as a highly insightful and iconic writer, Baldwin is best known for works such as Go Tell It on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and The Fire Next Time.

Born in 1924 in New York City as the eldest son of his mother, Baldwin never knew the identity of his biological father. He had a difficult childhood, growing up in poverty and spending much of his early years caring for his younger siblings.

Although he already had an interest in writing, it was after he met the renowned artist Beauford Delaney – who became his mentor – that he started taking his passion seriously.

As a homosexual in mid-20th century America, Baldwin was often subjected to discrimination and abuse. He became disillusioned with his homeland and moved to France where he spent most of his later life. Baldwin died on December 1,, 1987 in Saint-Paul de Vence.

To honor his life and legacy, here are some powerful James Baldwin quotes.

Don’t forget to also read our collection of thoughtful Alan Watts quotes that will broaden your mind.

James Baldwin quotes on love, freedom and education

1. “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” ― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on life

2. “People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.” ― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on what we allow ourselves to become

3. The only thing that white people have that black people need, or should want, is power-and no one holds power forever. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on power

4. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on what people believe

5. Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on children

6. The purpose of education…is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions. – James A. Baldwin
If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to read our collection of education quotes about learning and success.

James Baldwin quotes on education

7. The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on victims

8. We should certainly know by now that it is one thing to overthrow a dictator or repel an invader and quite another thing really to achieve a revolution. Time and time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed themselves into the hands of yet another Pharaoh, who, since he was necessary to put the broken country together, will not let them go. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on revolutions

9. A liberal: someone who thinks he knows more about your experience than you do. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on liberty

10. “Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it” ― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on power

If you’re enjoying this article, you might also like our collection of famous poems to inspire you when you feel like giving up.

James Baldwin quotes on change

11. “People can cry much easier than they can change.” ― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on change

12. People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on history

13. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on the things we face

14. You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on the world

15. The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes about the world

16. If the word ‘integration’ means anything, this is what it means that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes about brothers

17. Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes about real change

18. I think that the inability to love is the central problem, because that inability masks a certain terror, and that terror is the terror of being touched. And if you can’t be touched, you can’t be changed. And if you can’t be changed, you can’t be alive. – James A. Baldwin

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James Baldwin quotes on the inability to love

19. The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world.” – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on work

20. You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on writing

James Baldwin quotes on love

21. Love him and let him love you. Do you think anything else under heaven really matters? – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on what matters

22. “Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.” ― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on growth

23. Be careful what you set your heart upon – for it will surely be yours. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes to inspire and teach

24. Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on fear

25. “The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” ― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes on art

26. And love will simply have no choice but to go into battle with space and time, and furthermore, to win. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes to inspire growth

27. The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass and trees, but other people, has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs– as who has not?– of human love, God’s love alone is left. – James A. Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes about existence

28. If you’re treated a certain way you become a certain kind of person. If certain things are described to you as being real they’re real for you whether they’re real or not. – James A. Baldwin

james baldwin quotes on kindness

29. Great art can only be created out of love. – James A. Baldwin

james baldwin quotes on great art

30. Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover’s war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself and, with that revelation, to make freedom real. – James A. Baldwin

james baldwin quotes on society

James Baldwin quotes on life

31. “If you cannot love me, I will die. Before you came I wanted to die, I have told you many times. It is cruel to have made me want to live only to make my death more bloody.” ― James Baldwin

32. “Confusion is a luxury which only the very, very young can possibly afford and you are not that young anymore” ― James Baldwin

33. People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction. – James A. Baldwin

34. “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. ” ― James Baldwin

35. “Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.” ― James Baldwin

36. The world’s definitions are one thing and the life one actually lives is quite another. One cannot allow oneself, nor one’s family, friends, or lovers – to say nothing of one’s children – to live according to the world’s definitions: one must find a way, perpetually, to be stronger and better than that. – James A. Baldwin

37. The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. – James A. Baldwin

38. Everything in life depends on how that life accepts its limits. – James A. Baldwin

39. When you’re writing you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. – James A. Baldwin

40. “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also so much more than that. So are we all.” ― James Baldwin

Inspirational James Baldwin quotes

41. “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread.” ― James Baldwin

42. “There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one’s head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people’s pain.” ― James Baldwin

43. “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” ― James Baldwin

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44. The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose. – James A. Baldwin

45. “Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” ― James Baldwin

46. I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do. – James A. Baldwin

47. I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. – James A. Baldwin

48. Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. – James A. Baldwin

49. “I often wonder what I’d do if there weren’t any books in the world.” ― James Baldwin

50. “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” ― James Baldwin

Powerful James Baldwin quotes

51. “It is a terrible thing, simply, to be trapped in one’s history, and attempt, in the same motion (and in this, our life!) to accept, deny, reject, and redeem it–and, also, on whatever level, to profit from it.” ― James Baldwin

52. “White people are trapped in a history they don’t understand” and “Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have” ― James Baldwin

53. “Perhaps he is a fool and a coward but almost everybody is one or the other and most people are both.”― James Baldwin

54. “People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances, or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate.”― James Baldwin

55. “For he was one of those poets who escaped the terrors of writing by writing all the time.”― James Baldwin

56. “I think you’ve got to be truthful about the life you have. Otherwise, there’s no possibility of achieving the life you want.”― James Baldwin

57. “Painters have often taught writers how to see.”― James Baldwin

58. “We’re all bastards. That’s why we need our friends.”― James Baldwin

59. “What a great difference there is,’ she said, ‘between dreaming of something and dealing with it!”― James Baldwin

60. “If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring; whatever it brings must be borne.”― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes that will expand your mind

61. “The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him.”― James Baldwin

62. “And everything was different. I was walking through streets I had never seen before. The faces around me, I had never seen. We moved in silence which was music from everywhere.”― James Baldwin

63. “When a dark face opens, light seems to go everywhere.”― James Baldwin

64. “The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you.”― James Baldwin

65. “If the world wasn’t so full of dead folks maybe those of us that’s trying to live wouldn’t have to suffer so bad.”― James Baldwin

66. “It’s a miracle to realize that somebody loves you.”― James Baldwin

67. “I love a few people and they love me and some of them are white, and isn’t love more important than color?”― James Baldwin

68. “Nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom.”― James Baldwin

69. “The trouble with a secret life is that it is very frequently a secret from the person who lives it and not at all a secret for the people he encounters.”― James Baldwin

70. “People always seem to band together in accordance to a principle that has nothing to do with love, a principle that releases them from personal responsibility.”― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes to inspire and teach

71. “You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.”― James Baldwin

72. “To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it.”― James Baldwin

73. “The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself.”― James Baldwin

74. “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?”― James Baldwin

75. “The determination to outwit one’s situation means that one has no models, only object lessons.”― James Baldwin

76. “One must say Yes to life and embrace it wherever it is found—and it is found in terrible places; nevertheless, there it is.”― James Baldwin

77. “A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled.”― James Baldwin

78. “This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”― James Baldwin

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79. “I know that people can be better than they are. We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”― James Baldwin

80. “To defend oneself against a fear is simply to insure that one will, one day, be conquered by it; fears must be faced.”― James Baldwin

81. “It is your responsibility to change the society if you think yourself as an educated person.” ― James Baldwin

82. “You can’t see yourself all over. But I can. Part of you is honey, part of you is copper, some of you is gold.”― James Baldwin

83. “Books taught me that things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me to everyone who is alive and who had ever been alive.”― James Baldwin

84. “People are full of surprise, even for themselves, if they have been stirred enough.”― James Baldwin

85. “One can give nothing whatever without giving oneself – that is to say, risking oneself. If one cannot risk oneself, then one is simply incapable of giving.”― James Baldwin

James Baldwin quotes to elevate your mind

86. “The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” – James A. Baldwin

87. “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” – James A. Baldwin

88. “The face of a lover is an unknown, precisely because it is invested with so much of oneself. It is a mystery, containing, like all mysteries, the possibility of torment.” – James A. Baldwin

89. “The future is like heaven – everyone exalts it but no one wants to go there now.” – James A. Baldwin

90. “All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” – James A. Baldwin

91. “If you’re afraid to die, you will not be able to live.” – James A. Baldwin

92. “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” – James A. Baldwin

93. “But the relationship of morality and power is a very subtle one. Because ultimately power without morality is no longer power.” – James A. Baldwin

94. “No people come into possession of a culture without having paid a heavy price for it.” – James A. Baldwin

95. “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.” – James A. Baldwin

More James Baldwin quotes and sayings

96. “Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind.” – James A. Baldwin

97. “In order to have a conversation with someone you must reveal yourself.” – James A. Baldwin

98. “The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” – James A. Baldwin

99. “Drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.” – James A. Baldwin

100. “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” – James A. Baldwin

101. “Everyone wishes to be loved, but in the event, nearly no one can bear it. Everyone desires love but also finds it impossible to believe that he deserves it.” – James A. Baldwin

102. “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.” –James A. Baldwin

103. “A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.” – James A. Baldwin

104. “You don’t realize that you’re intelligent until it gets you into trouble.” –James A. Baldwin

105. “There are people in the world for whom “coming along” is a perpetual process, people who are destined never to arrive.” – James A. Baldwin

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Which are your favorite James Baldwin quotes

James Baldwin grew up in poverty and was subjected to discrimination and abuse. Still, he rose to the top of his game and was regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer.

Although he passed away in 1987, James Baldwin’s powerful words still resonate with much of today’s society. Hopefully, these quotes have inspired you to find a way, perpetually, to be stronger and better.

Did you enjoy these James Baldwin quotes? Which of the quotes was your favorite? We would love to hear all about in the comment section below.

Norbert Juma, Lead Editor
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  1. Charlie

    August 2, 2021 at 5:43 PM

    I really enjoyed reading these. I have tried to read James Baldwin but they were beyond my ability to understand. I loved being able to enjoy his quotes. My favorite is probably “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Thanks for sharing.

  2. Barbara Johnson

    December 11, 2019 at 8:41 PM

    My favorite quote came from Just Above My Head. “ When someone you love is happy, you have been given a great gift; you are the honored guest at a rare celebration. My husband read this in his speech at our son’s wedding. As a parent this quote is defines how I feel when my children find someone who loves them. I will always cherish this quote.

  3. Darvel Hodge Jr

    August 5, 2019 at 10:36 AM

    I am a 70 year old black man and over the years I have heard the name James Baldwin but I never knew he was a black man. I am college educated and spent 25 years of my life in the military. I have served throughout the world as a soldier. His quotes are the most inspirational I have encountered in my life. I will definitely explore his many accomplishments throughout his life.

    • J David Swift

      August 9, 2019 at 7:51 AM

      Thank you for your comment, Darvel, I have known since high school (1959-1963) that James Baldwin was black, and a great writer, but until recently, I had no idea what a deep thinker and deeply spiritual person he was. I was involved in the military (USAF) for eight years (four years active non-combat duty during Vietnam) and have recently joined with my high school classmates (75% African-American, my roots are in Eastern Europe) to try to form an alumni group to help the current students in Buffalo, NY (majority A-A and other people of color). I think that Baldwin will be a great role model for the young in my former high school. All my best wishes in your retirement, 716-244-1856 (text or voice anytime)

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