I read Onwards! when I was taking a year off before grad school. I remember wanting to like it because it was written by someone who knew a great deal about jazz. I also remember not liking something the professor said to his activist student. I think it was probably because the professor was right and I identified with the student. Anyway, here's something else Hentoff once wrote, which I just found while reflecting on his passing.
Nearly ten years ago I declared myself a pro-lifer. A Jewish, atheist, civil libertarian, left-wing pro-lifer. Immediately, three women editors at The Village Voice, my New York base, stopped speaking to me. Not long after, I was invited to speak on this startling heresy at Nazareth College in Rochester (long since a secular institution). Two weeks before the lecture, it was canceled. The women on the lecture committee, I was told by the embarrassed professor who had asked me to come, had decided that there was a limit to the kind of speech the students could safely hear, and I was outside that limit. I was told, however, that I could come the next year to give a different talk. Even the women would very much like me to speak about one of my specialties, censorship in America. I went and was delighted to talk about censorship at Nazareth.
It is sad that our cultural conversations don't automatically include voices like Hentoff's. Instead, it seems, we first have to be chosen to be on one of the "teams"—the Left or the Right.