Virtual Event: Nicholas BuccolaThe Fire Is upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America


An image of the author and book cover, with the event details.

Join the John Mitchell, Jr. Program and Busboys and Poets for a discussion with Dr. Nicholas Buccola of Linfield University,
in conversation with Andy Shallal (CEO & Founder, Busboys and Poets) and Dr. Charles L. Chavis, Jr. (Carter School, George Mason University). During this virtual event, Dr. Nicholas Buccola, a celebrated writer, lecturer, and teacher, will discuss how various traditions in American political thought have either upheld or challenged white supremacy and racial hierarchies. Dr. Buccola’s most recent book is The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America (Princeton University Press, 2019). This event is part of the A.C.T.O.R. (A Continuing Talk on Race) series at Busboys and Poets.

About the Book

On February 18, 1965, an overflowing crowd packed the Cambridge Union in Cambridge, England, to witness a historic televised debate between James Baldwin, the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement, and William F. Buckley Jr., a fierce critic of the movement and America’s most influential conservative intellectual. The topic was “the American dream is at the expense of the American Negro,” and no one who has seen the debate can soon forget it. Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is upon Us is the first book to tell the full story of the event, the radically different paths that led Baldwin and Buckley to it, the controversies that followed, and how the debate and the decades-long clash between the men continues to illuminate America’s racial divide today.

Born in New York City only fifteen months apart, the Harlem-raised Baldwin and the privileged Buckley could not have been more different, but they both rose to the height of American intellectual life during the civil rights movement. By the time they met in Cambridge, Buckley was determined to sound the alarm about a man he considered an “eloquent menace.” For his part, Baldwin viewed Buckley as a deluded reactionary whose popularity revealed the sickness of the American soul. The stage was set for an epic confrontation that pitted Baldwin’s call for a moral revolution in race relations against Buckley’s unabashed elitism and implicit commitment to white supremacy.

A remarkable story of race and the American dream, The Fire Is upon Us reveals the deep roots and lasting legacy of a conflict that continues to haunt our politics.