History was made 80 years ago on April 2, 1935, when a debate team from the small African American Wiley College in Marshall beat the reigning national collegiate debate champions, the University of Southern California. But Wiley would not supplant USC as collegiate debate champions or enjoy the crown. The Wiley College-USC debate was a non-decision affair because Wiley was not a member of the segregated organization governing the national contest.
Still, it was a defining moment in history for the legendary Wiley College debate coach Melvin Tolson and the students he inspired to speak boldly about important issues of the day. The story was made into a movie, The Great Debaters, that premiered in 2007 directed and starring Denzel Washington. One of the producers of the film is Oprah Winfrey and Longview-born Forest Whitaker is one of the key cast members.