Wiley's 'Great Debaters' to debate in 1935 rematch Friday - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Wiley's 'Great Debaters' to debate in 1935 rematch Friday

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MARSHALL, TX (KLTV) - Two college debate programs with a storied past will meet in a rematch Friday night.

Back in 1935, Marshall's Wiley College went to Los Angeles and became the first historically black college to win the national debate championship, beating USC.

And Friday, for the first time since that 1935 debate, the Wiley team will debate at USC.

In fact, the two nationally ranked teams have only met one other time since 1935, in Marshall in 2012, but the history between the two programs speaks for itself.

Wiley College was a tiny Methodist college with only a few hundred students back in 1935. Many of those students studied there on scholarship, with their parents hoping they'd blaze a path from slavery.

The debaters did so thanks to Professor Melvin B. Tolson, who began teaching at Wiley in 1924 and had started the debate program at by the late 1920s. It was Tolson who convinced his students they could take on the privileged kids at schools like USC and Harvard.

At some point after Tolson left Wiley College in 1947, the debate program disbanded, but their 1935 debate season was highlighted in the 2007 film "The Great Debaters," starring Denzel Washington as Tolson.

The film led Washington to make a $1 million donation to Wiley College, which revived their debate program in January, 2009. It's now known as the Melvin B Tolson/Denzel Washington Forensics Society of Wiley College.

The debate Friday starts at 7:30 p.m. CT/5:30 p.m. PT on the USC campus.

Two Wiley College students will debate two USC students on the role of race and ethnic identity in university admissions decisions.

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