Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Great Debaters Premiere

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from 1/5/08 from pseudo-intellectualism About Melvin Tolson from wikipedia

Melvin Beaunorus Tolson (February 6, 1898–August 29, 1966) was an American Modernist poet, educator, columnist, and politician. His work concentrated on the experience of African Americans and includes several poetic histories. He was a contemporary of the Harlem Renaissance and, although he was not a participant in it, his work reflects its influences. Liberia declared Tolson as its poet laureate in 1947.
Born in Moberly, Missouri, Tolson was the son of a Methodist minister and an Afro-Creek mother. His family moved between various churches in the Missouri and Iowa area until finally settling in the Kansas City area. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Kansas City in 1919 and enrolled in Fisk University. He transferred toLincoln University that year for financial reasons. Tolson graduated with honors in 1924, then moved to Marshall, Texas, to teach speech and English at Wiley College. While at Wiley, Tolson built up an award-winning debate team; during their tour in 1935, they competed against the Harvard College. Denzel Washington directed the film The Great Debaters, based on this event, released on 25 December 2007.
Tolson mentored students such as James L. Farmer, Jr. and Herman Sweatt at Wiley. He encouraged his students not only to be well-rounded people but also to stand up for their rights, a controversial position in the U.S. South of the early and mid-20th century.
He took a leave of absence to earn a Master's degree from Columbia University in 1930-31, but didn't complete it until 1940. Tolson began teaching at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma, in 1947; that year, Liberia declared him its poet laureate. He also entered local politics and served four terms as mayor of Langston from 1954 to 1960. One of his students at Langston was Nathan Hare, the black studies pioneer, who later became the founding publisher of The Black Scholar.
Tolson was a man of impressive intellect who created poetry that was “funny, witty, humoristic, slapstick, rude, cruel, bitter, and hilarious,” as Karl Shapiro had said of the Harlem Gallery. He was a dramatist and director of the Dust Bowl Theater at Langston University. Langston Hughes described him as “no highbrow. Students revere him and love him. Kids from the cotton fields like him. Cow punchers understand him ... He’s a great talker.”
In 1965, Tolson was appointed to a two-year term at Tuskegee Institute, where he was Avalon Poet. He died in the middle of his appointment after cancer surgery in Dallas, Texas, on August 29, 1966. He is buried in Langston.
From 1930 on, Tolson began writing poetry, and in 1941, Dark Symphony, often considered his greatest work, was published in Atlantic Monthly. Dark Symphony compares and contrasts African-American and European-American history. In 1944 Tolson published his first poetry collection, Rendezvous with America, which includes Dark Symphony. The Washington Tribune hired Tolson to write a weekly column, Cabbage and Caviar, after he left his teaching position at Wiley in the late 1940s.
His Libretto for the Republic of Liberia (1953), another major work, is in the form of an epic poem.
In 1965, Tolson's final work to appear in his lifetime, the long poem Harlem Gallery, was published. The poem consists of several sections, each beginning with a letter of the Greek alphabet. The poem concentrates on African American life and is a drastic departure from his first works. The poems he wrote in New York were published posthumously in 1979 as A Gallery of Harlem Portraits. It is a mixture of various styles as well as free verse. The racially diverse and culturally rich community presented in A Gallery of Harlem Portraits may be based on or intended to be
Marshall, Texas.


Quotes of Tolson
"England and France and Italy now exploit 500,000,000 colored peoples. For what? For dollars. For profits in gold and oil and rubber and agricultural products. But at home the masses of the population in these countries tear out their lives against economic injustices. That's the cancer that will eat away these dishonorable governments."
May 28, 1938
In fact, the first slaves sold at Jamestown were not black men – but white women. They were sold for tobacco.
The Indians did not have jails. Justice among the Indians was impartial. Just the opposite was true among white men. The Indian was not treacherous and cruel in the beginning. He learned that from the white men. At Plymouth, in 1620, the Rev. Mr. Cushman pleaded with the white "Christians" to be as kind and sincere as the red men. Nov. 25, 1939
Life consists of caviar and cabbage. Plenty of cabbage. Somebody called Washington the City Beautiful. In spite of the Negro tenements where the rats jitterbug all day and all night, and the lice do the lindy hop!
Sept. 28, 1940
There can be no democracy without economic equality. Thomas Jefferson said that when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. There can be no brotherhood of man without a brotherhood of dollars. I have another theory. It is based on economic and racial brotherhood. I presume to call this the Merry-Go-Round of History. On the merry-go-round all the seats are on the same level. Nobody goes up; therefore, nobody has to come down. That is democracy, as I see it. In a brotherhood, all the members are equal.
Oct. 19, 1940
I once heard Dr. Aggrey, the black South African, call Africa the question mark of the centuries. This bloody question mark has faced every civilized nation. No white nation has been moral enough to answer the Africans with justice and democracy.
Nov. 21, 1942


This is a short excerpt from Melvin B. Tolson's epic poem, "Dark Symphony," published in Atlantic Monthly in 1940.
"Black slaves singing One More River to Cross
In the torture tombs of slave-ships,
Black slaves singing Steal Away to Jesus
In jungle swamps
Black slaves singing The Crucifixion
In slave-pens at midnight,
Black slaves singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
In cabins of death,
Black slaves singing Go Down, Moses
In the canebrakes of the Southern Pharaohs."

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