FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Beauty from the Heart of Texas

by GREG MOSES

Over at the Internet Movie Database, redneck trolls are saddling up their cyber posse to go night riding on the message boards against Denzel Washington and “The Great Debaters.” All of which is a good thing if you like to see relevance in contemporary art. Because deep down, “The Great Debaters” is a film about how to grow yourself into a real person despite the needlers, taunters, and brutes who dominate the space around you — and who dominate it, still.

Passion, poetry, learning, and love. These are the things you must keep working at. “The Great Debaters” is about never being deterred. In art, thank goodness, we are graced to craft images of humanity into beauties that last. And the beauty of Professor Melvin B. Tolson in “The Great Debaters” is heroic as it should be.

Okay, so the actual Wiley College debate team from Marshall, Texas didn’t actually debate the actual Harvard College debate team in or about the actual year of 1935, as the actual movie shows. But what Tolson and his students did achieve was just as beautiful as the film portrays. The students and scholars of the most unlikely little community in NorthEast Texas embodied the Harlem Renaissance. They breathed in the mighty poetry and aspirations that had converged upon Lenox Avenue, and they gave back to the world tiny seedlings of a civil rights movement that would make history, yes, upon brand new roots. And they were great debaters.

If “The Great Debaters” has not been able to satisfy internet demand for documentary accuracy, that’s a good thing again; because now there is opportunity to nourish that appetite. The more you get to know the actual beauties of these folk and their work, the less the film will appear like exaggeration. The more you’ll see that the film did the best it could do in two hours’ time to share with you the force of spirit that was distilled among the children and grandchildren of slaves.

Pecking through the internet, I’m locating a handful of seeds to get you started on your East Texas victory garden. The University of Illinois has a good starter page on <a href=”http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/tolson/tolson.htm” target=”_blank”>Melvin B. Tolson</a>. There you will notice that many of Tolson’s poems did not make it into print during his lifetime.

The Center for East Texas Studies has a good starter collection of materials about <a href=”http://www.cets.sfasu.edu/Harrison/Farmer/marker.htm” target=”_blank”>James Leonard Farmer, Sr.</a> I have linked to the “historical marker” page, but if you navigate to the Farmer root directory, you’ll find a nice collection of texts and pictures. For example, I like what the Bostonia file says about the sermons of Farmer Senior:

“No printed copies of those sermons have been uncovered, but poet Melvin Tolson, on the Wiley faculty during the 1930’s, offered another glimpse in his Washington Tribune column, ‘Caviar and Cabbage,’ describing Farmer’s Mother’s Day 1938 sermon: ‘I was thrilled,’ Tolson wrote, ‘by this vivid picture of Jesus the young rebel,’ who dearly loved his mother while battling the convention of his time.”

Notice on the big screen how much smiling goes on between Tolson and Farmer Senior when the subject of Jesus comes up. Glimpse the game they play within a close intellectual relationship. In fact, Farmer Senior was a great scholar of the Gospels, which is another story altogether. A clip of the film scene, featuring the two academy award winning actors Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, is widely available on the internet.

The autobiography of civil rights activist James Farmer, Jr. is rich with early memories of black college campuses, not only in Marshall, Texas. Here’s a link to the publisher’s page for Lay Bare the Heart.

During the 1930s, a federal work program collected slave narratives in Texas, which have been typed up and stored at the Library of Congress. Here’s a link to the index of that collection. Could it be the case that so many former slaves of Harrison County Texas actually had the failing memories they reported to federal writers?

And Salatheia Bryant of the Houston Chronicle offers a fine writeup on the “real” woman debater of Wiley College, Henrietta Bell Wells. Of the film says Ms. Wells: “I hope I live up to the ideals in it.”

So please don’t bother believing what the bigots tell you about this film, not even the trolls who claim to have Harvard degrees. You don’t have to be Black to feel beautifully about Denzel Washington’s fine new film, “The Great Debaters.” The “message” of this film is for anyone who still desires the capacity to dream higher than what you already are.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.

 

 

Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Martha Durkee-Neuman
Millennial Organizers Want to See An Intersectional Understanding Of Gun Violence
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail