On Feb. 25, 2009, SMU and Wiley College kept an appointment made nearly 75 years ago. A debate team from Wiley – the historically black college in Marshall, Texas, that became famous with the 2007 film “The Great Debaters” – visited the University for a contest on the topic of whether to shut down the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
SMU extended the original invitation to Wiley in 1935; it would have been the first time a white school hosted a debate against a black college. But that debate was canceled, possibly because of Wiley coach Melvin B. Tolson‘s arrest for civil rights activism.
The SMU team won the 2009 competition, 3-0. Yet “just in having this debate we are all winners,” said Ben Voth, director of SMU’s Speech and Debate Program and associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs in Meadows School of the Arts. “We have overcome a history of racism and divisiveness.” Voth serves on the advisory board for Wiley’s debate program and has taught workshop seminars at Wiley to prepare the college’s new team.
(Above, debate team members from Wiley College and SMU congratulate each other after the competition Feb. 25. Photo by Kim Ritzenthaler.)