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Video: James Baldwin debates William F. Buckley (1965)

Here is the full 1965 debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr. at Cambridge University on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”

On February 18, 1965, a crowd packed the Cambridge Union in Cambridge, England, to witness a televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., America’s most influential conservative intellectual. As Gabrielle Bellot writes:

The packed auditorium was hushed. Here was a clash of diametrically opposed titans: In one corner was Baldwin, short, slender, almost androgynous with his still-youthful face, voice carrying the faintly cosmopolitan inflections he’d had for years. He was the debate’s radical, an esteemed writer unafraid to volcanically condemn white supremacy and the antiblack racism of conservative and liberal Americans alike. In the other corner was Buckley, tall, light-skinned, hair tightly combed and jaw stiff, his words chiseled with his signature transatlantic accent. If Baldwin—the verbal virtuoso who wrote moving portraits of black America and about life as a queer expatriate in Europe—stood for America’s need to change, Buckley positioned himself as the reasonable moderate who resisted the social transformations that civil-rights leaders called for, desegregation most of all.

Running time: 54 minutes

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