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Trojan debate squad set for Great Debaters rematch

Trojan Debate Squad Set for Great Debaters Rematch
Melvin B. Tolson, center, led the Wiley College debate team to prominence in 1935.

The Trojan Debate Squad will travel to Texas for a Jan. 27 rematch of a famous 1935 debate between USC and Wiley College that inspired The Great Debaters, the 2007 movie starring Denzel Washington.

Held during an era of segregation, Wiley College beat defending national champion USC to become the first historically black college to win the national championship. (In the movie, Wiley College took on Harvard University instead of USC.)

“Long before education was desegregated, USC and Wiley demonstrated that the best educational environment is when all students have the ability to learn together,” said Gordon Stables, director of Debate and Forensics at USC.

Wiley College president and CEO Haywood L. Strickland said in a school announcement that Wiley College and USC first met in a country divided by a color line.

“I am proud that all these years later, these schools will meet in a country that celebrates differences, knows that skin color is no determinant of intelligence and recognizes that we share a common humanity,” Strickland said.

USC undergraduates Clara Purk and Maria Mohammad will compete against Wiley College debaters Chad Mossiman and Cary Chavis.

“I’m really excited to be involved in this debate,” Purk said. “I remember the first time I learned about this debate was when I saw The Great Debaters with my high school debate team, and it fascinated me to see the history behind debate teams across the country, and how much both our country and the debate community has evolved. It is going to be an amazing experience to be part of such a unique and historical debate.”

Chavis told the Longview News-Journal that it is an honor for the students who are involved in this year’s event.

“I look at the movie [set in 1935] and these two schools that … came together and united,” Chavis said. “As Wiley students, to know the shoulders we stand on, it is really humbling to be a part of this.”

Trojan debate squad set for Great Debaters rematch

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