The movie, “The Great Debaters,” changed a key fact for dramatic effect. In the movie, Wiley debates Harvard and wins. The actual history is that the University of Southern California was the top debating team in the nation 77 years and Wiley went to California to debate USC.
Now, a new generation of Wiley College debaters will debate USC again, this time in Marshall.
The Melvin B. Tolson/Denzel Washington Forensics Society of Wiley College will host an exhibition with the University of Southern California on Jan 27, 2012 on the Wiley Campus during its Ethical Student Leadership Conference.
“This is the first meeting of our schools since our famous debate some 77 years ago in 1935,” Wiley College Vice President of student affairs and enrollment services Joseph Morale said. “Wiley College was victorious in the historic debate, and our team emerged as a national champion.”
The two schools met 77 years ago when they competed for the national championship before an audience of 1,100 people.
Wiley College, under the direction of Melvin B. Tolson earned the victory, becoming the first African-American college to win the national championship.
“This is a joyful time for Wiley College,” Morale said. “Our students and all students have the opportunity to watch or hear the debate and experience a living history lesson.”
Wiley College Director of Forensics, Christopher Medina, said it was “an honor to be a part of the exhibition.”
“Upon being hired here at Wiley College, I have always really felt that this particular debate is so important to this school and our legacy,” Medina said. “So I contacted the director of forensics at USC who I have known for several years and discussed the idea of having an exhibition debate with him. And he was very excited about the opportunity and the idea.”
The exhibition team will consist of the debate team captain, Cary Chavis, and parliamentary research chairman, Chad Mossiman.
“It is an honor for us. I look back at the movie in 1935, and these two schools that participated in this debate that lasted no longer than 30 minutes, before Dr. King and Rosa Parks, these two schools came together and united,” Chavis said. “As Wiley students to know the shoulders we stand on, it is really humbling to be a part of this.”
The Melvin B. Tolson/Denzel Washington Forensics society returned to competition three years ago with the help of a gift from actor Denzel Washington, who directed the movie and starred as Tolson.
The team has since ranked in the top ten in the 2011 Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament, and is currently ranked third in debate sweepstakes.
Article referenced from The Marshall News Messenger.