New film tells the story of an all-black debating team that overcame 1935’s best and brightest

One of Melvin Tolson's earliest memories is of falling asleep in the sitting room of his family home in Marshall, Texas, to the sound of a raging argument. 'My father would play devil's advocate and switch sides halfway through,' says Tolson, now 84. 'I was fascinated. I wanted to be just like him.'

But this was no skirmish between bickering parents. It was the practice session of the Wiley College debating team that was about to change the course of American history. In 1935 the Wiley College debaters, coached by Professor Melvin Tolson Snr, became the first all-black team to win the national university championships. The team, made up of two men and one woman, triumphed over white Ivy League institutions with unprecedented success, blazing a trail for equal rights in a time of extreme racial segregation.

Now the little-known story of how three African-American undergraduates took on the system and won has been made into a Hollywood film, directed by Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey. The Great Debaters, which is due for American release on Christmas Day, will also star Washington as the professor who inspires his young charges to challenge the endemic racism of the times through the power of words and a lethally accurate eloquence. In the movie the Wiley team is shown beating Harvard University - a victory believed to have taken place in one of the opening rounds of the championship

(Source: The Guardian UK)

Filmmaking, Hollywood

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