A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school's first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.
Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.
Marshall, Texas, described by James Farmer, Jr. as "the last city to surrender after the Civil War," is home to Wiley College, where, in 1935-36, inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and his clandestine work as a union organizer, Professor Melvin Tolson coaches the debate team to a nearly-undefeated season that sees the first debate between U.S. students from white and Negro colleges and ends with an invitation to face Harvard University's national champions. The team of four, which includes a female student and a very young James Farmer, is tested in a crucible heated by Jim Crow, sexism, a lynch mob, an arrest and near riot, a love affair, jealousy, and a national radio audience. Written by
When Prof. Tolson lectures his students about the origin of the word "lynching," he refers to the Willie Lynch Letter or Willie Lynch Speech, which are generally considered modern-day hoaxes. There is no historical or archival record of either before the 1990s, when they first appeared on the Internet. No 1930s professor could have cited them. See more »
James Farmer Jr.:
In Texas they lynch Negroes. My teammates and I saw a man strung up by his neck and set on fire. We drove through a lynch mob, pressed our faces against the floorboard. I looked at my teammates. I saw the fear in their eyes and, worse, the shame. What was this Negro's crime that he should be hung without trial in a dark forest filled with fog. Was he a thief? Was he a killer? Or just a Negro? Was he a sharecropper? A preacher? Were his children waiting up for him? And who are we to just lie ...
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You do what you have to do, so you can do what you want to do.
This wasn't about my Texas, although I am familiar with many of the topics in this film. I have been to Marshall in my travels over most of the highways in Texas, I know about Paul Quinn College and Prairie View A & M University. This wasn't even about my Daddy's Texas, as he was just a small boy at the time. It was, however, my Grandfather's Texas. he typified the characters in this film.
With Denzel Washington directing and acting, I expected an outstanding film. I was not prepared to be so emotionally taken in that I left the theater wiping tears from eyes. This was a powerful statement about the differences in American. Differences that were typified by Franklin Roosevelt's affirmative action program for whites - the New Deal; differences that would be repeated twenty years later after WWII when the whites again received affirmative action in the form of the GI Bill. Robert Eisele's story really brought home the pain and deprivation of being Black in America, and how some could overcome that deprivation with the right help, but could never overcome the pain.
Besides Washington, there were outstanding performances by Forest Whitaker, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, and Denzel Whitaker, as a 14-year-old in college.
Tears in my eyes, I will long remember this film as one of the best of the year and of many years.
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