Tracing The Origins of the Race Debate in America

The author of a new book explores the racial divide in the United States and how two men came to embody the two sides of the fight.

Linfield College Political Science Professor and author Nicholas Buccola takes Detroit Today’s Stephen Henderson back to the turbulent 1960s, and a debate about race between two leading intellectuals of the time to show how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. The two men highlighted are William F. Buckley, the father of modern conservatism, and James Baldwin, the author and essayist who was a leading voice of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The two men met in 1965 for a televised debate that showed just how divided America could be on the question of race. The debate also carved a profile for the discussion about race for the next several decades, and much of it is as relevant today as it was back in 1965. Buccola’s new book, “The Fire is Upon Us,” looks back at the Baldwin-Buckley debate to frame a discussion about race and racism in 2019. 

“Baldwin was someone who from a very young age was fascinated by words…he found power in language…power in books,” says Buccola, adding that Baldwin “was certainly a leading champion of the cause and Buckley was one of the most vociferous critics of the Civil Rights Movement.” 

“Baldwin calls on everyone watching to examine themselves…and to try to free one another from the state of delusion in which we live.” Meanwhile Buckley “was the master of undermining the position of his opponent,” says Buccola. 

Click on the audio player above to hear from Nicholas Buccola about the history and current state of the race debate in America.


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