Melvin B. Tolson and the Wiley College Debate Team

RedState reader suggested to me that, instead of speaking about Black History activism and activism I should just focus on encouraging Blacks towards academic pursuits. I replied to his comment with: What is the best way to know if I’m not doing this already??

It was not something I mentioned in the comments. However, I am going to start this Black History Month blog post by sharing this thought. Have been there. still doing it. Two young Black men were two of my influences. Their future was dependent on them overcoming their ignorance. One of them was a professional football player. I helped him with his writing and oral presentation. As a result, his abilities to learn and navigate through his coursework increased as did his GPA. His academic prowess was not the only thing that he graduated with. My tutor was a young man who could only read. The other young man I tutored was only a freshman at high school and could not read beyond fourth grade. Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Zora Nealehurston were some of the books we read. We also studied Maya Angelou and other Black intellectuals to stimulate his imagination and encourage curiosity. He was reading at a grade-level level after three months.

As I have said in previous Black History Month posts, just because the Left has co-opted certain terms, doesn’t mean we cannot take them back and restore their meaning. Education and activism cannot be separated. I find that my most effective activism has been done by supporting young people academically.

Melvin B. Tolson was the best person to understand this. Tolson, a poet, writer and scholar of exceptional quality, used his remarkable talents to instill, empower and train thousands young women and men to seek, return and preserve their righteous minds and then to use them for the greater good.

Melvin Beaunorus Tolson is a Missourian who was born February 6th, 1898. Writer and Poet Langston Hughes, who was no intellectual slouch himself, declared Tolson to be “the most famous Negro Professor in the Southwest.”

In 1924, Tolson received his Bachelor of Arts from Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter he accepted a position at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, as an English and Speech instructor. I mentioned the former football coach who grew his skills not only in the game of football but also intellectually and academically. Academic growth and knowledge can enhance and enrich all areas of your life. Tolson also served as the football coach and play director at Wiley. His most prominent role at Wiley, however, was that of speech and debate coach.

In 1935, Tolson was instrumental in taking Wiley’s speech and debate team to a National Championship over the University of Southern California (USC). This was Jim Crow South, as I stated in the video. Black debate teams at that time were still in infancy. Tolson created one that defeated all other Black debate groups. Anglo-Saxonone. (Watch this video to learn more about the use).

The movie from 2007. The Great DebatersThe historic win was covered in. Dramatically, they took liberties with compositing characters and changing facts. It went against Harvard, instead of Wiley going against USC. The moment was still inspiring and motivating for everyone, including Blacks.

What the movie also doesn’t cover is the fact that Tolson and Wiley College maintained a 10-year winning streak from 1929 to 1939.

Tolson was never afraid to take back what was his and keep it righteous. Tolson left teaching and coaching in 1930 to pursue his Columbia University master’s degree. He returned to Wiley College in 1931 and continued his education. Tolson earned an MFA (MFA) in English and Comparative Literature, in 1940. Tolson was able to meet the Harlem Renaissance’s giants, Langston Hughes and Zora Nale Hurston during his time in New York. Tolson interviewed these and other artists for his master’s thesis, and was inspired to write poetry that delved into the Black urban experience. Tolson’s poetry appeared in Black newspapers of the time, and in 1944, Tolson’s first book of poetry, Rendezvous With AmericaThe publication of, has been published.

In 1947, Tolson moved on from Wiley to teach at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. In 1953, he was named Poet Laureate for Liberia. He published his second collection of poetry, titled. Libretto in the Republic of LiberiaTolson, who was elected mayor of Langston in Oklahoma from 1954-1960. Harlem GalleryAnother 1965 poetry book, titled .

Melvin B. Tolson was diagnosed with cancer and died after a procedure on August 29th 1966. His legacy includes not only his academic achievements, but also the life he shaped as a teacher and coach.

The Great Debaters One of my favourite movies is “The Greatest,” not just because of Denzel Washington’s amazing performances, direction, and the other outstanding talent such as Kimberly Elise (and Nate Parker), Gina Ravera, Jurnee Slomollett, and Forest Whitaker (and Nate Parker), but also because the movie captures a triumph over Jim Crow and segregation. The Black experience makes education unique and powerful.

You can ask Dr. Ben Carson.

Like I mentioned in the video, this story was changed for dramatic licence. USC was undefeated at the time in 1935’s debate. My alma maternity has been in difficult times lately, but once it was an honorable institution and a formidable competitor.

Some of my favorite quotes come from this film, like, “We do what we have to do in order to do what we want to do.”

This movie is a rare glimpse into Black culture.

 Anyone know the identity of Willie Lynch? Anybody? Raise your hand. Who is this? In the West Indies, he was a brutal slave owner. Lynch was sent to the colony by slave-masters of Virginia who were struggling with their slaves. The word “lynching” came from his last name. While his methods seemed simple and straightforward, they were absolutely evil. Maintain the physical strength of the slave, but make sure that he is psychologically stable and dependent upon his master. Maintain the body and take care of the mind. I and every professor on this campus are here to help you find, take back and keep your righteous mind.


Melvin B. TolsonWhich judge are you?
Samantha, Henry Lowe James Farmer Jr. Hamilton Burgess: God is the judge.
Melvin B. Tolson: What is God’s purpose?
Samantha, Henry Lowe and James Farmer Jr. Hamilton BurgessHe decides who wins and loses. My opponent.
Melvin B. TolsonWhat is your enemy?
Samantha, Henry Lowe and James Farmer Jr. Hamilton Burgess?He doesn’t exist.
Melvin B. Tolson: He doesn’t exist!
Samantha, Henry Lowe and James Farmer Jr. Hamilton BurgessHe is just a dissenting voice to the truth that I speak

In the triumphant moment of the debate between the Wiley College debate team and the Harvard University one, the character of James Farmer, Jr. uses in his final argument a St. Augustine quote: “An unjust law, is no law at all.” I have used this myself in my advocacy against AB5, which stripped independent contractors in California of their ability to work as they chose, and the PRO Act, which is still a threat to independent professionals nationwide.

Denzel Whittaker’s portrayal of James Farmer, Jr. is a beautiful act. The character gives this powerful speech depth and gravitas.

Texas has a policy of lynching Negroes. One of my teammates and me saw a man who was tied around his neck and lit on fire. After driving through the lynch mob we pressed our heads against the flooring and drove on. My teammates looked at me. I could see the terror in their eyes, and even more, their shame. What was this Negro’s crime that he should be hung without trial in a dark forest filled with fog. Is he a criminal? He was a murderer? Was he a killer? Did he work as a sharecropper or a preacher? Was he a preacher? Are his children still waiting for him to come? We can’t just sit there and do nothing. The mob is the criminal, no matter what he did. However, the law didn’t do anything. Just left us wondering, “Why?” My opponent says nothing that erodes the rule of law can be moral. There isn’t any rule of law south of Jim Crow. Negroes cannot be denied housing. Schools, hospitals and other facilities are closed to Negroes. We are not lynched. St Augustine said, “An unjust law in no law at all.’ Which means I have a right, even a duty to resist. Violent or civil disobedience. The latter should be prayed for.

The possibilities are endless. Rent inspiring films if you like them. The Great Debaters. You should read more about Melvin B. Tolson’s academic activism. Go buy his book if you are a lover of poetry and want to see the impact he had on America’s literary landscape.

Let me quote another favourite fictional character. Find out more.

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