Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Great Debaters

Althought it's rated PG-13, I allowed my whole family (aged 10 and up) to watch "The Great Debaters" last night. I was glad we did. Based on the true story of the first African-American college debate team, the drama revolves around Melvin Tolson and his Wiley College students. I was impressed how Tolson taught his debate team to stand up for themselves and use their God-given intelligence. I was impressed how James Farmer, Jr. attended college at age 14. I was impressed that he quoted from Saint Augustine in his final rebuttal agains the Harvard University national champions. But Texas in the late 1930s is still mired in Jim Crow rules and blatant racism.

*Spoilers* We skipped the bedroom scene between the Wiley College sweethearts. But I was able to narrate in whispers while playing through the lynching scene. The car-load from Wiley accidentally comes upon a mob who has just lynched a black man, and they narrowly escape back down the dirt road.

The special features include a live interview with the living members of the Wiley College debate team and Denzel Washington. An inspirational drama produced by Oprah Winfrey.

Happily, this movie shows that people of all colors can be very smart and very stupid. It opened the door for a good discussion of slavery and would work well as a follow up to a Civil War unit study. We also watched "Black Ulysses" which is an episode in "The Young Riders" DVD #2 about the underground railroad helping slaves escape in 1961.

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