Wiley College: The Great Debators
For the month of Febuary we celebrate Black History Month. And as we do there are motable names that we have all come to know. Names like, Dr. King, W.E.B. Dubois, Justice Thurgood Marshall and even, Malcolm X. These are the names that most Americans, and even African Americans, associate Balck History with. However, there are many more African Americans that have paved the way for the lifesuyle that we, as African Americans, enjoy today. Unfortunately, these unsung heroes are not spoken of during elementary, middle or high school educational years, as well as in many of our fine institutions of higher learning.
One such group of bold, brave and highly learn-ed young people was the Wiley College Debate Team. This was a group of young and very intelligent African Americans that put the skilled art of debating on its ear, at a time when African American were thought to be of lesser intelligence.
In 1935 college debating was a very renowned event and many of these debates were broadcast on the radio because t.v. had yet to reach its worldwide popularity. During this time Wiley College started their reign as the countries top debating schools, led by Dr. Melvin Tolsen who was a scholar, poet and a activist. Ge was a stern educator that did not tolerate students who gave less then their best. He knew that, as an African American, our concentration should be more on education then the fame fortune of athletics.
Also leading the way for the debate team was Dr. James Farmer Sr. the father of the 14yr. old member of the debate team, James Farmer Jr.
With the help and firm leadership, dedication and discipline of Dr. Tolsen, Dr. Farmer Sr., along with other members of the Wiley College faculty, the debate team went undefeated for ten years. Even though they didn't debate Harvard or Oxford, as so rumored, some considered them to be the greatest debate team in history. During their reign they defeated such notable colleges as Michigan, Oklahoma, and Southern California, who is the all white college that is depicted in the movie The Great Debaters.
The list of graduates of this debate team and their accomplishments are too many for me to do them all justice, however, the for mentioned movie will enlighten you on the Wiley College debate teams journey, along with articles,interviews and a historical retrospectives that you can find online.
During this time where we celebrate our culture, our struggles and our accomplishments in, not only American History but, world history, we as African Americans, who are keeper of the real history ans who have experienced our rise to the heights of becoming the leader of the free world and President of the United States. We, as the elders, need to teach, educate, enlighten and strengthen our youth to realize that they can become more then they can imagine. No longer is there a ceiling. No longer are there boundaries. No longer are there limitations. The ceiling has been broken, shattered and eliminated and we as African Americans can be anything that we chose to be. We have that choice now. There are no more excuses anymore. Dr. Tolsen and the Wiley debate team used no excuses, so why and how can you? They didn't use slavery as a cope out. They used slavery as a motivational factor and a driving force to propel them to greater heights.
So let's stop being ashamed of our history of slavery. Better yet, let's embraces it. For if not for our slavery and our struggles, as a race, then we would not be where we are as a people, as the powerful culture that we are today. Wiley College was not ashamed of their roots, they used it to lift them to higher heights upon the shoulders of those before them.
We should remember that it is not by your limitations or restrictions of what has been but, it is by your aspiration and dedication, which should be greater then your past, that you can surpass those that come before you.