Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




There are many strong and powerful scenes in this work. Mr. Baldwin has his eye clearly on the full values

that his sincere characters possess, though these values often are tossed aside and trampled. His people have

an enormous capacity for sin, but their capacity for suffering and repentance is even greater.




Books by & about James Baldwin

Carol E. Henderson, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain: Historical And Critical Essays. Peter Lang Publishing, 2006.

Go Tell It on the Mountain  /   The Fire Next Time  /   Notes of a Native Son  /   If Beale Street Could Talk

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Go Tell It on the Mountain 

By James Baldwin. Knopf. $3.50

Review by T.E. Cassidy

This is a novel about Harlem’s store-front churches, seen through the eyes of the people who go to one of them. These people have blood and flesh in their church, and in their past in the South, and it would seem that, therefore, their story would be of wonder, strength, tragedy, and sometimes beauty. The story is of all these things, partly. But it is not what the author hopes it will be, when he says of his intentions: “it is a fairly deliberate attempt to break out of what I always think of as the ‘cage’ of Negro writing. I wanted my people to be people first, Negroes almost incidentally.”

He has not really accomplished that in this book, because there is always the absolute feeling of injustice toward a people, not as people, but as a race of people. The disasters that occur are those that occur only, or largely, because these are Negro people. Their feelings may be those shared in other circumstances by others, but these, here, are clearly marked “Negro.” Yet the mark of the spirit is here, that which can be seen in any experience of men who have a sense of sin and a sense of repentance.

This is the mark that is upon the Grimes family, in one way or another. The tale of John’s childhood and growth is the tale of his awakening to his role in the life of the Harlem church where his father is head deacon. The “Temple of the Fire Baptized” is the scene of revival meeting. During the course of the meeting, the author goes back over the lives of the Grimes family—their individual journeys from the South to the North.

The first part (“The Seventh Day”) sets the scene and gathers all the family into present focus. In part two, the lives of Florence, Gabriel, and Elizabeth—sister, brother, and wife—are recorded in relation to each other and to the children, John and Roy. Each of these is a story that leads to a prayer for salvation and hope for the children, especially for John who is marked for the elect. The last part is “The Threshing Floor,” the wrestling arena where John meets the Lord and the sword-test of the soul.

Temptation stalks everyone, and wins ands loses alternately. Gabriel, for example, “hated the evil that lives in his body, and he feared it, as he feared and hated the lions of lust and longing that prowled the defenseless city of his mind.” Elizabeth had been told by her father to “weep, when she wept, alone; never to let the world see, never to ask for mercy; if one had to die, to go ahead and die, but never to let oneself be beaten.” And Florence, as she finds her way to the Lord, was “as though she had been hurled outward into time, where no boundaries were, for the voice was the voice of her mother, but the hands were the hands of death.”

There are many strong and powerful scenes in this work. Mr. Baldwin has his eye clearly on the full values that his sincere characters possess, though these values often are tossed aside and trampled. His people have an enormous capacity for sin, but their capacity for suffering and repentance is even greater. In think that is the outstanding quality of this work, a sometimes majestic sense of the failings of men and their ability to work through their misery to some kind of peaceful salvation. Certainly, the spark of the holy fire flashes even through their numerous external misfortunes.

Source: Commonweal (May 22, 1953)

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Selected Works

Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1953

Notes of a Native Son, 1955

Giovanni’s Room, 1956

Nobody Know My Name (, 1962

Another Country, 1962

The Fire Next Time, 1963

Blues for Mister Charlie (a play, produced in 1964)

Going to Meet the Man, 1965

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, 1968

A Rap on Race, with Margaret Mead, 1971

If Beale Street Could Talk 1974

The Devil Finds Work, 1976

Just Above My Head, 1979

The Evidence of Things Not Seen, 1985

The Price of the Ticket: Collected Non-Fiction, 1948-1985, 1985

Perspectives: Angles on African Art, 1987

Conversations with James Baldwin, 1989

Early Novels and Stories, 1998

Collected Essays, 1998 (ed. by Toni Morrison)

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Take this Hammer—a James Baldwin documentary

KQED’s film unit follows poet and activist James Baldwin in the spring of 1963, as he’s driven around San Francisco to meet with members of the local African-American community. He is escorted by Youth For Service’s Executive Director Orville Luster and intent on discovering: “The real situation of negroes in the city, as opposed to the image San Francisco would like to present.” He declares: “There is no moral distance . . . between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham. Someone’s got to tell it like it is. And that’s where it’s at.” Includes frank exchanges with local people on the street, meetings with community leaders and extended point-of-view sequences shot from a moving vehicle, featuring the Bayview and Western Addition neighborhoods.

Baldwin reflects on the racial inequality that African-Americans are forced to confront and at one point tries to lift the morale of a young man by expressing his conviction that “There will be a negro president of this country but it will not be the country that we are sitting in now.”

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 6 November 2007 /  update 24 February 2008



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