Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Hares and the Great Debaters

Drs. Julia and Nathan Hare were both students of poet Melvin Tolson, the teacher portrayed by Denzil Washington in the Great Debaters. If there is one negative criticism of the Great Debaters, it is that we do not see Melvin Tolson as the great poet he was. There is little mention of him as poet. The film opens with him reciting a Langston Hughes poem, but never do we see him rapping from his own great body of work. Both Hares were taught by Tolson at Langston University in Oklahoma . Nathan was originally an English major under Tolson.

Tolson was a difficult, detailed, intricate poet whose book Libretto for Liberia is a poetic classic. Before the film, he was not well known except in literary circles and academia.
The film should spark interest in his body of work and the students he mentored such as James Farmer, Julia and Nathan Hare.
Check out former Oklahomans, Drs Nathan and Julia Hare, in this week's JET magazine hitting the stands today, January 8.

The Hares, who were both former students of the film's hero when he taught at Langston University , are the subjects of a page-length sidebar, "The Real Great Debater 'Aimed at Broadway and Hit Hollywood.'" An interesting aside: Nathan later taught black power advocate Stokely Carmichael and Claude Brown, author of Manchild in the Promised Land during a six-year stint on the faculty of Howard University .

In the radical activist tradition of Tolson and others, including the greatest radical scholar WEB DuBois, Nathan Hare was banned from teaching at Howard and later at San Francisco State University . SFSU will celebrate the forty year anniversary of Hare's battle in his role as chair of the first black studies department at a major university--he caused one of the biggest and most violent student strikes in the history of American academia. The SFSU Ethnic Studies Department is planning to endow a chair in his honor.

By Marvin X and The Black Think Tank

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