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December 13, 2007


LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, PA ~ Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington portrays Lincoln University graduate Melvin B. Tolson in “The Great Debaters,” a film that depicts Tolson’s unerring mentorship and will hit theaters on Dec. 25.

Tolson, who graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1923, coached a debating team to a national championship when the nation was intensely segregated. Aside from his career as debating team coach, Tolson became a distinguished author, poet, college professor and public servant.

“I’m very pleased that Tolson is getting recognition for his amazing feats,” said Dr. Ivory V. Nelson, president of Lincoln University. “He is another in a long list of Lincoln graduates who have made their mark on history.”

The movie is the product of the collaboration of two giants in the industry. Washington also directs the movie and Oprah Winfrey is its producer.

The movie, nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Drama, focuses on the debaters from historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. It highlights the instrumental role Tolson played in preparing the debaters for their stunning victory over the University of Southern California for the national championship.
Tolson’s biography indicates that he was born in Moberly, Mo. and taught at Wiley College from 1924 to 1947. He moved to Langston University of Oklahoma, where he also had a stint as a three-term mayor of the city.

He is credited with mentoring civil right activists James L. Farmer and Heman Sweatt during his tenure at Wiley. One of his students at Langston University was Nathan Hare, the black studies pioneer, who became the founding publisher of The Black Scholar.

Tolson, a prolific writer, is the author of “Dark Symphony,” “Libretto for the Republic of Liberia,” and “A Gallery of Harlem Portraits.”

Tolson was the recipient of an honorary degree in 1954 and 1965 from Lincoln University and he was additionally recognized on campus with a literary organization named after him.

Founded in 1854, Lincoln University is a premier, historically Black University that combines the best elements of a liberal arts and sciences-based undergraduate core curriculum and selected graduate programs to meet the needs of those living in a highly technological and global society.  The University is nationally recognized as a major producer of African Americans with undergraduate degrees in the physical sciences (biology, chemistry and physics); computer and informational sciences; biological and life sciences.  Lincoln has an enrollment of 2,423 undergraduate and graduate students.

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