Thursday, June 1, 2017

Remembering the night William F. Buckley took his genteel racism to Cambridge--and left destroyed by James Baldwin

Excerpted from "Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped the Sixties"

Salon Magazine - With the challenges of the civil rights movement sparking worldwide discussion about the importance of individual rights and the limitations of tradition, the students of the Cambridge Union Society dreamed up a humdinger of an event to celebrate their one hundred and fiftieth anniversary in February 1965. Coming in the throes of the civil rights movement, when the hopefulness of the early movement had yet to give way to the more violent reactions of the latter half, the students thought a debate between James Baldwin, the most articulate voice emerging from black America, and William F. Buckley, Jr., the most persuasive conservative, would draw a significant amount of attention. They were right. More than seven hundred students showed up, filling every seat. An overflow room set up to pipe in the debate also filled quickly. The only black face in the audience was that of Baldwin’s friend, Sidney Poitier. The rest were white students from Cambridge, sitting alongside numerous reporters, including one from the New York Times, which would print the debate almost in its entirety a few weeks later.1 The proposition under consideration was “The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro.”