Wiley College Librarian Talks About The Great Debaters - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

6/11/07-Marshall

Wiley College Librarian Talks About The Great Debaters

Hollywood has officially made its way to East Texas!   Academy Award Winning actor Denzel Washington will star and direct a film called "The Great Debaters." It centers around Wiley College's famous debate team from the 1930s. Monday, crews were shooting in Palestine, but lots is going on at the Wiley College campus, too.

As crews dig up old wood and work on restoring "The President's House" to its original design for the movie, librarian Dr. Evelyn Bonner has done some digging of her own.

She has pulled dozens of photos, books, and documents about The Great Debaters and their history. She even created a book for producers, now autographed by Denzel Washington.

"These people made a lasting contribution and I really am happy Mr. Washington picked it up as a film," she says.

Bonner says The Great Debaters were a group of Wiley College students, led by Professor Melvin Tolson, who will be played by Denzel Washington. They traveled the country debating students at other universities on controversial topics of the time.  

"For the most part, winning was their aim and winning they did. They did take most of the championships," she adds.

But what made The Great Debaters "great," aside from winning nearly every debate, was winning against white universities like Harvard and USC, crossing the racial divide. 

"It was beyond the expectations of many people, but what they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears, it convinced some of them that their thoughts and the stereotypes about black people, were not absolutely valid."

And now, Bonner says she's glad that part of history at Wiley College in Marshall will forever be remembered on the silver screen.

"Picture's worth a thousand words so when people see this re-enactment in real life drama it will bring to the remembrance of those who knew and it will enlighten and educate those who didn't know," Bonner says.

We've been told film crews will be on the Wiley College campus in Marshall next week, shooting scenes there. Some scenes will also be filmed in Shreveport.

Tracy Watler/Reporting: tracy@kltv.com

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