A Lincoln University graduate is being portrayed by Denzel Washington in a drama due to hit movie theaters on Christmas Day.
The Great Debaters tells the story of Melvin Tolson, a professor and coach of the debate team at Wiley College in Texas. In 1935 Tolson led the debate team at the historically black college to a win over the University of Southern California, the reigning debate national champions (in the movie the victory comes over Harvard instead.)
Tolson, born in Moberly, Missouri in 1898, graduated with honors from Lincoln in 1924. He promptly moved to Marshall, in northeast Texas near the Louisiana border, where he taught Speech and English at Wiley. In addition to leading Wiley's debate team to their noteworthy win over USC, Tolson was also a well-known poet and columnist. He received honorary degrees from Lincoln in 1954 and 1965, and died in 1966.