PMA presents theatrical re-imagining of ‘American Dream’ debate

In 1965, the Cambridge Union Society invited African-American novelist James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, then-editor of the National Review, to debate the question, “Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?”

“It comes as a great shock, around the age of five, or six, or seven, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you,” Baldwin spoke to a crowd of more than 700 students.

“Baldwin vs. Buckley: The Faith of Our Fathers,” a remix of that famed debate, will be presented at 7 p.m. April 18 at the State Theatre.Conceived and arranged by Kyle Bass, “The Faith of Our Fathers” is directed by Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., senior lecturer in performing & media arts and will feature projections created by Dehanza Rogers, an assistant professor in PMA. A conversation with Bass will follow the show.

"A theatrical re-imagining of this seminal debate has such resonance to what's going on today in the United States and the world in terms of race and privilege,” Simmons said. "When Kyle sent this to Civic Ensemble, I felt I was reading something from a Town Hall during the last election cycle. The arguments by both Baldwin and Buckley are still happening today in our schools, our workplaces, our communities. These arguments can be exhausting, but this debate, especially Baldwin's arguments, enliven the eternal "race question" that has carried over from the 20th century as the most important question facing our society."

Simmons is also the artistic director of Civic Ensemble, an Ithaca-based theatre company that produces new and overlooked plays by or about women and people of color, re-imagined classics, and community-based plays.  

Bass is associate artistic director at Syracuse Stage and the current Burke Endowed Chair for Regional Studies at Colgate University. He is the author of “Possessing Harriet,” which received its world premiere at Syracuse Stage in October 2018

Tickets for “The Faith of Our Fathers” are $10 and are available at or at the box office; however, no person will be turned away from seeing the show due to cost and complimentary ticket requests may be made by emailing High school students are also eligible for free tickets. 

“The Faith of Our Fathers” is presented by the Cornell Speech & Debate Society and Civic Ensemble and is co-sponsored by Cornell University's Department of Performing and Media Arts, ILR School, History Department, Cornell Council for the Arts, and the Society for the Humanities. 

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 James Baldwin and William F. Buckley