Forensics team defeats Great Debaters of Wiley College in historic debate


The first time the TCU Forensic and The Great Debaters of Wiley College met, they could not drink from the same water fountains.

It was 1935 and TCU became the first predominantly white college in the South to host a debate for a historically black college on campus.

The two teams commemorated their first debate last weekend. The public was invited to watch the debate on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. in Marshall, Texas.

An audience gathered in the Julius S. Scott Sr. Chapel and watched the teams argue the issue, “Resolved: Violence is a justified response to political oppression.”

“We had a tour of the campus, then we had a workshop Q&A with a high school team that was near Marshall,” sophomore forensics team member Donald Griffin said.

A double major in journalism and psychology, Griffin and his partner, sophomore Shelby Whitson, won with the affirmative stance on violence as a justified response to political oppression.

“We researched historical examples, philosophies and theories, and then we did preliminary research,” Whitson, a double major in journalism and political science, said. “I had the rebuttal, so that meant I had to research on the affirmative and negative.”

The idea of hosting this debate became a reality after the release of a Fort Worth Magazine article about the 1935 debate.

The Wiley College debate team garnered acclaim when they lost only one debate between 1930-1940. Their story turned into a film in 2007 produced by Oprah Winfrey and starred Denzel Washington, “The Great Debaters.”

“It was an honor to be able to participate in it,” Whitson said. “They were very kind and welcoming to us. And I think that couples with the fact that everyone was there to enjoy the celebration of the event.”

TCU will host Wiley College on March 18 in the Library Reading Room. The event is open to the public.

“This is the way debate was meant to be. It was meant to be public where people could come and engage in these topics,” Convener of Debates Dr. Amorette Hinderaker said. “We hope to see that continue in March when they come to our campus.”