This Legendary Debate Brought Race Relations To Center Stage

picture of james baldwin and another man
Leslie Taylor-Grover
November 23, 2021

One thing about James Baldwin was that he NEVER minced words. He surely didn’t hold back when he was challenged to discuss the so-called “American Dream” during a 1965 debate. Who was his challenger?

William F. Buckley, a conservative whose influential ideas led to today’s Republican party. This “moderate” thought Baldwin was beneath him, and expected to rip the Black writer-activist to shreds. Bless his heart – that’s NOT how it turned out.

Baldwin reminded the audience that our people built this country for free, and weren’t much better off than we were during enslavement due to racial bias – a scathing indictment of the “American Dream.” The audience gave Baldwin a standing ovation. Buckley?

He gave a feeble reply about Baldwin playing the victim. He claimed Black people needed to do better to achieve more, and that racism wasn’t an issue – even though the country was knee-deep in the Civil Rights movement! 

The crowd was not pleased and voted down his words, giving Baldwin the victory in the debate.

As Baldwin’s candid assessment of the American Dream shows, white folks have to be pushed to acknowledge basic truths. After all, he won the debate – but 60+ years later we still have the same problems! We must be open and honest about the anti-Black racism still thriving in this country to ever make real progress.

We have a quick favor to ask:

PushBlack is a nonprofit dedicated to raising up Black voices. We are a small team but we have an outsized impact:

  • We reach tens of millions of people with our BLACK NEWS & HISTORY STORIES every year.
  • We fight for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM to protect our community.
  • We run VOTING CAMPAIGNS that reach over 10 million African-Americans across the country.

And as a nonprofit, we rely on small donations from subscribers like you.

With as little as $5 a month, you can help PushBlack raise up Black voices. It only takes a minute, so will you please ?

Share This Article: