The Great Debaters
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Believe in the power of words.
From two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington and an ensemble cast lead by Washington that includes Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, comes THE GREAT DEBATERS. Inspired by a true story, THE GREAT DEBATERS chronicles the journey of Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington), a brilliant, but volatile, debate team coach who uses the power of words to shape a group of underdog students from a small African American college (Wiley College) in the deep south into a historically elite debate team. A controversial figure, Professor Tolson challenged the social mores of the time and was under constant fire for his unconventional and ferocious teaching methods as well as his radical political views.
In the pursuit for excellence, Tolson's debate team receives a groundbreaking invitation to debate Harvard University's championship team. The film is directed by Denzel Washington and stars Washington, Forest Whitaker, Jurnee Smollett, Nate Parker, Denzel Whitaker, and Kimberly Elise. "The Great Debaters" was written by Robert Eisele and produced by Todd Black, Kate Forte, Oprah Winfrey and Joe Roth. Presented by The Weinstein Company, "The Great Debaters," will be released by MGM on December 25th.
Behind the Story
In 1924, Melvin Tolson accepted a position as instructor of English and speech at Wiley College. While at Wiley, he taught, wrote poetry and novels, coached football and directed plays. In 1929, Tolson coached the Wiley debate teams, which established a ten-year winning streak. The Debate Team beat the larger black schools of its day like Tuskegee, Fisk and Howard.
After a visit to Texas, Langston Hughes wrote that "Melvin Tolson is the most famous Negro professor in the Southwest. Students all over that part of the world speak of him, revere him, remember him and love him."
According to James Farmer, Tolson's drive to win, to eliminate risk, meant that his debaters were actors more than spontaneous thinkers. Tolson wrote all the speeches and the debate team memorized them. He drilled them on every gesture and every pause. Tolson was so skilled at the art of debating that he also figured out the arguments that opponents would make and wrote rebuttals for them-before the actual debate.
In 1930, he pursued a master's degree in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University; met V.F. Calverton, editor of Modern Quarterly; wrote "Cabbages and Caviar" column for The Washington Tribune and organized sharecroppers in South Texas.
In 1935, he led the Wiley Debate Team to the national championship to defeat the University of Southern California before an audience of eleven hundred people. In 1947 he was appointed poet laureate of Liberia by President V. S. Tubman. He left Wiley to become professor of English and Drama at Langston University in Oklahoma.
About Wiley College
For over 130 years, Wiley College has been a center of learning for all who sought to enter its doors. Primarily, however, it has served African Americans and other minorities. The College was founded in 1873 by the Freedman's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the purpose of providing education to the "newly freed men" and preparing them for a new life. The College is currently affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Increasingly, students of other races, as well as international students, are finding Wiley College to be an attractive place to acquire a college education.
Since the selection of the site and initial planning of the buildings on which the College is located, the campus of Wiley College is now comprised of 17 permanent structures for teaching, learning, and research as well as residential housing for students. Wiley College is one of three institutions of higher learning situated in Marshall, which has an estimated population of 25,000 people and growing.
The school is located in Harrison County on 63 acres of land west of Marshall, Texas and between Dallas to the west and Shreveport to the east. This location offers access to the amenities of both cities and, at the same time, provides a perfect environment for student learning and intellectual growth away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. A major airport is located in Shreveport, just thirty minutes away from the College.
Initially, the purpose of Wiley College was to focus mainly on training teachers for careers at black elementary and secondary schools. It has since grown from a vocational college to an institution that awards an associate's degree and bachelor's degrees in 17 disciplines including, English, biology, business, computer science, and social sciences, etc. Additionally, the College is recognized for providing higher education opportunities to non-traditional students through its Organizational Management Program and its Criminal Justice Administration program. Wiley College students receive a quality education, are competitive, and certainly get their money's worth in dollar value. The school has one of the best student-faculty ratios in the nation. This enables the College to provide an individualized learning environment, where students are more than a number.
This is an exciting time in the life of Wiley College. We will make every effort to accommodate all requests for interviews.RADIO
To schedule a radio interview with President Strickland or the campus historian/archivist, please contact Shannon Levingston at 903-927-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.PRINT AND BROADCAST
To schedule newspaper, magazine or broadcast interview with President Strickland or the campus historian/archivist, please contact Tammy Taylor, Director of Public Relations, at 903-927-3385 or e-mail email@example.com.
The movie trailer can be viewed at http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809870043/trailer.
"Melvin B. Tolson and the Great Debaters represent a legacy of extraordinary teaching and scholarship that Wiley College seeks to preserve."
Haywood L. Strickland
Average class size: 20 students (Fall 2011)