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James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

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    [music]
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    Narrator: The following program is from NET:
    The National Educational Television Network.
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    Debate, James Baldwin Vs William Buckley.
    Subject, "Has the American Dream Been
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    Achieved at the Expense of the American
    Negro?"
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    This debate was held recently at the
    Cambridge Union, Cambridge University
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    England, and was recorded for use by NET.
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    Norman St. John Stevas, M.P:
    Well, here we are in the debating hall
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    of the Cambridge Union, hundreds of
    undergraduates and myself waiting for what
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    could prove one of the most exciting
    debates in the whole 150 years of the
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    union history.
    It really... I don't think I have ever
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    seen the union so well attended.
    There are undergraduates everywhere.
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    They're on the benches and on the floor
    and on the galleries. And there are a lot
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    more outside clambering to get in.
    Well, the motion that has drawn this huge
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    crowd tonight is this: That the American
    Dream has been achieved at the expense
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    of the American negro. The debate will
    open with two undergraduates speakers,
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    one from each side, and then we shall
    have the first distinguished guest,
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    Mr James Baldwin. The well-known American
    novelist who has achieved a world wide
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    fame with his novel "Another Country."
    Then opposing the motion will be
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    Mr. William Buckley, also an American.
    Very well-known as a conservative in the
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    United States. I must stress a conservative
    in the American sense. Author of a book
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    called "Up from Liberalism" and editor of
    the National Review. One of the earliest
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    reporters of Senator Goldwater.
    Well, this is the setting of the debate,
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    and at any moment now, the president
    will be leading in his officers and his
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    distinguished guests. He will take his
    chair, and the debate will begin.
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    [applause]
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    The motion before the house tonight is
    "The American Dream at the Expense of
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    the American Negro." The proposer,
    Mr. David Haycock of Pembroke College,
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    and our opposer, Mr. Jeremy Burford of
    Emmanuel College. Mr. James Baldwin
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    will speak third. Mr William Buckley Jr.
    will speak fourth. Mr. Heycock has the
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    ear of the house.
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    [applause]
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    David Heycock: Mr. President, sir, it is
    the custom of the house for the first
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    speaker in any debate to extend a
    formal welcome to any visitors to the
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    house. I can honestly say however it is
    a very great honor to be able to welcome
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    to the house this evening Mr. William
    Buckley and Mr. James Baldwin.
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    Mr. William Buckley has the reputation
    of possibly being the most articulate
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    conservative in the United States of
    America. He was a graduate of Yale,
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    and he first gained a reputation for
    himself by publishing a book called
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    "God and Man at Yale."
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    [laughter]
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    Since then, he has devoted himself to
    the secular, and this has included
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    Norman Mailer, Kenneth Tynan, Mary McCarthy,
    and Fidel Castro, none of whom have come
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    out of their confrontations unscathed.
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    [laughter]
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    At present, his principle occupation is
    editing a right-wing newspaper in the
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    United States entitled
    "The National Review."
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    Mr. James Baldwin is hardly in need of
    introduction. His reputation both as a
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    novelist and as an advocate of civil rights
    is international. His third novel
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    "Another Country" has been published as
    a paperback in England today. Mr. Baldwin
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    and Mr. Buckley are both very welcome to
    the house this evening.
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    [applause]
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    Imagine Mr. President a society which
    above all values freedom and equality.
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    A society in which artificial barriers to
    fulfillment and achievement are unheard
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    of. A society in which a man may begin his
    life as a rail splitter and end it as president.
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    A society in which all men are free in
    every sense of the word. Free to live
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    where they choose. Free to work where they
    choose. Equal in the eyes of the law and
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    every public authority. And equal in the eyes
    of their fellows. A society in fact which
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    intollerence and prejudice are meaningless
    terms. Imagine; however, Mr. President, a
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    condition of this utopia has been a
    persistent and quite deliberate
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    exploitation of one ninth of its
    inhabitants. That one man in nine has
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    been denied his rights, which the rest
    of that society takes for granted.
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    That one man in nine does not have
    a chance for fulfillment or realization
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    of his innate potentiality. That one
    man in nine cannot promise his
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    children a secure future and unlimited
    opportunities. Imagine this Mr. President
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    and you have, what is in my opinion,
    the bitter reality of the American Dream.
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    A few weeks ago Martin Luther King had
    to hold a non-violent demonstration in
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    Selma, Alabama in his drive to register
    negro voters. By the end of the week
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    of his demonstrations, he was able to
    write quite accurately in a national
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    fundraising letter from Selma, Alabama
    jail "There are more negros in prison
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    with me then there are on the voting
    roles." When King wrote that letter,
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    three-hundred and thirty-five out of
    thirty-two-thousand-seven-hundred
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    negros in Dallas had the vote.
    One percent of the Dallas population.
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    After a mass march to the court house,
    two-hundred-and-thirty-seven negros,
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    King among them, were arrested.
    The following day, four-hundred-and
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    seventy children, who had deserted
    their classrooms to protest against
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    King's arrest, were charged with juvenile
    delinquency.
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    [laughter]
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    Thirty-six adults on the same day were
    charged with contempt of court for
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    picketing the court house while
    state circuit court was in session.
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    On the following day, a hundred-and
    eleven people were arrested on the
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    same charge despite their claim that
    they merely wanted to see the voting
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    registrar. Four-hundred students were
    arrested and taken to the armory,
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    where many of them spent the night
    on a cold cement floor. The following
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    date the demonstrations spread to
    Marion, Alabama. In Marion, negros
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    outnumbered the whites by eleven-and
    a-half thousand to six-thousand people
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    and yet, only three hundred are registered
    to vote. Negros in Marion were anxious
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    to test the public accommodations section
    of the civil rights law. They entered a
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    drug store and there they were served
    with Coca Cola laced with salt and were
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    told that hamburgers had risen to five
    dollars each. After the arrest of fifteen
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    negros for protesting against this
    treatment, seven hundred negros
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    boycotted their classes the next day
    and marched in orderly fashion to the
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    jail. There they sang civil rights songs
    until they were warned by a state trooper
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    that they would be arrested if they sung
    one more song. Of course, they sung
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    another song, and of course, all seven
    hundred were arrested. American
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    society has felt fit to use negro labor.
    It has felt fit to use the blood of the
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    negro in two world wars. It has felt fit to
    listen to its music. It has felt fit to laught
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    at its jokes, and yet, as far as I am
    concerned, it has never felt fit to
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    give the American negro a fair deal;
    and for this reason Mr. President,
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    I will beg leave to propose the motion
    that the American dream is at the expense
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    of the American negro.
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    [applause]
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    Unnamed Individual: I now call Mr. Jeremy Burford of Emmanuel College to oppose the motion.
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    [applause]
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    Narrator: Now, we have Mr. Jeremy
    Burford of Emmanuel College who
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    is the first undergraduate opposing
    the motion.
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    Jeremy Burford: James Baldwin is well
    known as one of the most vivid and
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    articulate writers about the negro
    problem in American. Mr. Baldwin
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    had a difficult childhood, and he
    has personally himself suffered
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    discrimination and ill treatment
    of a sort in American, and I would
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    like to say at this time that it is
    not the purpose of this side of
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    the house to condone that in any
    way at all. It is not our purpose to
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    oppose civil rights. It is our purpose
    to oppose this motion. [audience: here here]
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    [laughter]
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    Thank you, sir. Come and collect
    your fee afterwards.
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    [laughter and applause]
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    This side of the house denies that the
    American dream has in any way been
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    helped by this undoubted inequality
    and suffering of the negro.
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    We maintain in fact that this has hindered
    the American Dream, and if there had
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    been equality, if there had been true
    freedom of opportunity, the American
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    dream would be very much more advance
    then it is now. If the American dream has
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    made any progress, and I think it has,
    it has been made in spite of the suffering
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    and inequality of the American negro and
    not because of it. Now it is also implied
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    in this motion that the American Dream is
    encouraging and worsening the suffering
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    of the American negro. This is emphatically
    not the case. The American Dream,
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    the American economic prosperity and
    respect for civil liberties has been the
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    main factor in bringing about the undoubted
    improvement in race relations in America
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    in the last twenty years; and Professor
    Arnold Rose was the author of the "Negro
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    in America" which is perhaps the definitive
    word on the subject, who is also a
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    contributor of what is called "The Freedom
    Pamphlet". So I should imagine if he has
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    any bias at all, it is in favor of the negro.
    He's said that this improvement in race
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    relations will be seen in years to come as
    remarkably quick, and he has put it down
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    to three main causes: increased
    industrialization and technical advance,
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    the increased social mobility of the
    American people, and the economic
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    prosperity. And I would put it to this
    house that that industrialization and
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    economic prosperity are two of the main
    ingredients of the American dream and
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    at the same time--again, I do not want to
    say that the negro in America is treated
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    fairly--but at the same time, the average
    per capita income of negros in America
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    is exactly the same as the average per
    capita income of people in Great Britain.
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    Now, I found that absolutely amazing.
    I understand that some of you do as well;
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    so, I've got the reference here from the
    United States News and World Report
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    of July the 22nd 1963, in which it points
    out... [Man in the audience raises hand]
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    This will have to be the last interruption
    I take because time is running short.
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    Audience member: Mr. Preston. Now a
    point of information, is this being a talking
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    of real income or money income?
    [Audience: here here, applause.]
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    I am talking of money income. I would not
    wish to disguise that. I would also say that
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    in terms of this, there are only five
    countries in the world where the income
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    is higher than that of the American negro,
    and they do not include countries like
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    West Germany and France and Japan.
    Now, there are in America thirty-five
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    negro millionaires. There are six thousand
    doctors and so on. Now I do not by saying
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    this wish to emphasize that the negro is
    fairly treated. I merely wish to try and
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    convey a more realistic and objective
    account of the situation of the negro.
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    I agree that there are negros who are
    very poor indeed, such as the old
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    gentlemen in the south who was talking
    about some of his wealthier brethren
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    saying "Yes. Some of these rich negros
    they put on airs like the bottom
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    figure of a fetch, and the bigger they try
    to be the smaller they really are."
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    I would repeat Mr. President in the
    last minute that I have that this debate
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    is not whether civil rights should be
    extended to American negros or not;
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    if it were it would be a very easy
    motion to argue for and a very easy
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    motion to vote for. The debate tonight
    concerns whether the American Dream
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    is at the expense of the American negro.
    That is where the American negro has paid
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    for the American dream with a suffering
    or whether the American dream has
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    furthered the negro inequality, and
    I would deny those things to precept.
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    I would say that negro inequality has
    hindered the American dream, and
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    I would say that the American dream
    has been very important in the in
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    furthering civil rights and in furthering
    freedom for the American negro.
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    Mr. President, sir, I beg to oppose
    the motion.
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    [applause]
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    Unnamed Individual: It is now with very
    great pleasure and a very great sense of
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    honor that I call Mr. James Baldwin
    to speak third to this motion.
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    [applause]
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    Narrator: Now we have Mr. James Baldwin,
    the star of the evening, who has been
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    sitting, listening attentively and getting
    a wonderful reception here in the
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    Cambridge Union. From members, enthusiasm
    from all sides of the house for Mr. Baldwin,
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    who has been listening to the arguments.
    Now will bring the voice of actual
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    experience to the debate.
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    James Baldwin: Good evening.
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    [laughter]
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    I find myself, not for the first time, in
    the position of a kind of Jeremiah.
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    For example, I don’t disagree with
    Mr. Burford that the inequality
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    suffered by the American Negro
    population of the United States has hindered
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    the American dream. Indeed, it has.
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    I quarrell with some other things he
    has to say. The other, deeper, element of
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    a certain awkwardness I feel has to do
    with one’s point of view.
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    I have to put it that way – one’s sense,
    one’s system of reality.
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    It would seem to me the proposition
    before the House, and I would put it
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    that way, is the American Dream at the
    expense of the American Negro,
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    or the American Dream is at
    the expense of the American Negro.
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    Is the question hideously loaded,
    and then one’s response to that question
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    – one’s reaction to that question –
    has to depend on effect and, in effect,
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    where you find yourself in the world,
    what your sense of reality is,
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    what your system of reality is.
    That is, it depends on assumptions which
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    we hold so deeply so as to
    be scarcely aware of them.
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    Are white South African or
    Mississippi sharecropper, or
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    Mississippi sheriff, or a Frenchman
    driven out of Algeria, all have, at bottom,
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    a system of reality which compels
    them to, for example, in the case of the
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    French exile from Algeria, to offend
    French reasons from having ruled Algeria.
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    The Mississippi or Alabama sheriff,
    who really does believe, when he’s facing
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    a Negro boy or girl, that this woman,
    this man, this child must be insane to
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    attack the system to which he owes
    his entire identity. Of course, to
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    such a person, the proposition which
    we are trying to discuss here tonight
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    does not exist. And on the other hand,
    I, have to speak as one of the people
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    who’ve been most attacked by what
    we now must here call the Western or
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    European system of reality. What white
    people in the world, what we call
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    white supremacy – I hate to say it here
    – comes from Europe.
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    That's how it got to America. Beneath
    then, whatever one’s reaction to this
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    proposition is, has to be the question
    of whether or not civilizations can
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    be considered, as such, equal, or
    whether one’s civilization has the right
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    to overtake and subjugate, and, in fact,
    to destroy another.
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    Now, what happens when that happens.
    Leaving aside all the physical facts that
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    one can quote. Leaving aside, rape
    or murder. Leaving aside the bloody
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    catalog of oppression, which we
    are in one way too familiar with already,
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    what this does to the subjugated,
    the most private, the most serious
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    thing this does to the subjugated,
    is to destroy his sense of reality.
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    It destroys, for example, his father’s
    authority over him. His father can no
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    longer tell him anything, because
    the past has disappeared, and his
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    father has no power in the world.
    This means, in the case of an
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    American Negro, born in that
    glittering republic, and the moment you
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    are born, since you don’t
    know any better,
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    every stick and stone and
    every face is white.
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    And since you have not yet seen
    a mirror, you suppose that you
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    are, too. It comes as a great shock
    around the age of 5, or 6, or 7, to
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    discover that the flag to which
    you have pledged allegiance, along with
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    everybody else, has not pledged
    allegiance to you. It comes as a
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    great shock to discover that Gary
    Cooper killing off the Indians, when you
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    were rooting for Gary Cooper,
    that the Indians were you. It comes as a
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    great shock to discover that the
    country which is your birthplace and to
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    which you owe your life and your identity,
    has not, in its whole system of reality,
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    evovled any place for you. The
    disaffection, the demoralization, and the
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    gap between one person and another
    only on the basis of the color of their
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    skin, begins there and accelerates
    – accelerates throughout a whole lifetime
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    – to the present when you realize
    you’re thirty and are having a terrible
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    time managing to trust your
    countrymen. By the time you are thirty,
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    you have been through a certain
    kind of mill. And the most serious effect
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    of the mill you’ve been through is,
    again, not the catalog of disaster,
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    the policemen, the taxi drivers,
    the waiters, the landlady, the landlord,
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    the banks, the insurance companies,
    the millions of details, twenty four
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    hours of every day, which spell
    out to you that you are a worthless
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    human being. It is not that. It’s by
    that time that you’ve begun to see
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    it happening, in your daughter or your
    son, or your niece or your nephew.
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    You are thirty by now and nothing you
    have done has helped to
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    escape the trap. But what is worse
    than that, is that nothing you
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    have done, and as far as you can tell,
    nothing you can do, will save your
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    son or your daughter from meeting
    the same disaster and not
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    impossibly coming to the same
    end. Now, we’re speaking about
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    expense. I suppose there are
    several ways to address oneself,
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    to some attempt to find what that
    word means here. Let me put it
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    this way, that from a very literal
    point of view, the harbors and the
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    ports, and the railroads of the
    country–the economy,
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    especially of the Southern
    states–could not conceivably be
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    what it has become, if they had
    not had, and do not still have,
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    indeed for so long, for many generations,
    cheap labor. I am stating very
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    seriously, and this is not an
    overstatement: I picked the cotton,
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    I carried it to the market,
    and I built the railroads under
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    someone else’s whip for nothing.
    For nothing.
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    The Southern oligarchy, which has
    still today so very much power in
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    Washington, and therefore some
    power in the world, was created
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    by my labor and my sweat, and the
    violation of my women and the murder of
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    my children. This, in the land of
    the free, and the home of the brave.
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    And no one can challenge that statement.
    It is a matter of historical record.
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    In another way, this dream, and we’ll
    get to the dream in a moment,
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    is at the expense of the American
    Negro. You watched this in the Deep South
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    in great relief. But not only in the
    Deep South. In the Deep South, you
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    are dealing with a sheriff or a
    landlord, or a landlady or the
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    girl of the Western Union desk, and
    she doesn’t know quite who she’s
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    dealing with, by which I mean,
    that if you’re not a part of the town,
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    and if you are a Nothern Nigger,
    it shows in millions of ways.
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    So she simply knows that it’s an
    unknown quantity, and she wants to
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    have nothing to do with it because
    she won’t talk to you, you have
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    to wait for a while to get your telegram.
    OK, we all know this. We’ve all
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    been through it and, by the time you
    get to be a man, it’s very easy to deal with.
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    But what is happening in the poor
    woman, the poor man’s mind is
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    this: they’ve been raised to believe,
    and by now they helplessly believe,
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    that no matter how terrible their lives
    may be, and their lives have been
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    quite terrible, and no matter how
    far they fall, no matter what disaster
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    overtakes them, they have one
    enormous knowledge in
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    consolation, which is like a heavenly
    revelation: at least, they are not Black.
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    Now, I suggest that of all the terrible
    things that can happen to a
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    human being, that is one of the worst.
    I suggest that what has happened
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    to white Southerners is in some ways,
    after all, much worse than
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    what has happened to Negroes
    there because Sheriff Clark in
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    Selma, Alabama, cannot be considered
    – you know, no one can be
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    dismissed as a total monster.
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    I’m sure he loves his wife, his children.
    I’m sure, you know, he likes to
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    get drunk. You know, after all, one’s got
    to assume he is visibly a man like me.
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    But he doesn’t know what drives
    him to use the club, to menace with the
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    gun and to use the cattle prod.
    Something awful must have happened to
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    a human being to be able to put
    a cattle prod against a
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    woman’s breasts, for example.
    What happens to the woman is ghastly.
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    What happens to the man who
    does it is in some ways much, much worse.
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    This is being done, after all, not a hundred
    years ago, but in 1965, in a country
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    which is blessed with what we call
    prosperity, a word we won’t examine
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    too closely; with a certain kind of
    social coherence, which calls itself a
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    civilized nation, and which espouses
    the notion of the freedom of the
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    world. And it is perfectly true from
    the point of view now
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    simply of an American Negro. Any American
    Negro watching this, no matter
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    where he is, from the vantage point of
    Harlem, which is another terrible
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    place, has to say to himself, in spite of
    what the government says
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    – the government says we can’t do
    anything about it – but if those were
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    white people being murdered in
    Mississippi work farms, being carried
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    off to jail, if those were white children
    running up and down the streets,
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    the government would find some
    way of doing something about it.
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    We have a civil rights bill now
    where an amendment, the
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    fifteenth amendment, nearly a hundred
    years ago – I hate to sound again
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    like an Old Testament prophet –
    but if the amendment was not
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    honored then, I would have any
    reason to believe in the civil rights
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    bill will be honored now.
Title:
James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Duration:
58:58

English subtitles

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