Daily Distraction: Watch this never-aired 1979 interview with James Baldwin

The late author discusses white fragility and more in a shelved segment originally filmed for '20/20'

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
James Baldwin on a street in New York, June 19, 1963.

In 1979, just prior to the publication of his 19th book, Just Above My Head, author James Baldwin sat with ABC's "20/20" for an intimate and revealing interview, which the network never aired.

More than four decades later, the interview segment has finally surfaced. Compelling footage accompanies the wide-ranging conversation, presenting a behind-the-scenes view of Baldwin at home in his Manhattan apartment, where he appears surrounded by family, and including insights from his mother, Berdis Emma Baldwin, who said she didn't know her son would become a wildly famous author, though it was always clear "he had to write."

The interview, conducted by Sylvia Chase, is similarly revealing, with Baldwin discussing a range of topics, perhaps none more timely than the concept of white fear and white fragility.

“White people go around, it seems to me, with a very carefully suppressed terror of Black people — a tremendous uneasiness,” Baldwin said. “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. 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.”

Watch the full interview in the video below