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On February 18, 1965, an overflowing crowd in Cambridge, England gathered to witness a televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., a fierce critic of the movement and America’s most influential conservative intellectual. The topic was “the American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” Drawing from his book The Fire Is Upon Us, political scientist Nicholas Buccola brings us the full story of this historic debate, outlining the radically different paths of Baldwin and Buckley, the controversies that followed, and how the debate and the decades-long clash between the men continues to illuminate America’s racial divide today. Buccola delves into the conversation between these two men as a remarkable story of race and the American dream—an unforgettable confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy. Sit in for an exploration of this pivotal debate, and follow the deep roots and lasting legacy of a conflict that continues to haunt our politics.
Nicholas Buccola is the author of The Political Thought of Frederick Douglass and the editor of The Essential Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and Liberal Democracy. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, and many other publications. He is the Elizabeth and Morris Glicksman Chair in Political Science at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.
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