The Film The Great Debaters: Analysis Assignment

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About this sample


Words: 1124 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Jun 7, 2021

Words: 1124|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Jun 7, 2021

A debate is “a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints” (Dictionary). It can be about a variety of topics such as plastic surgery, animal testing, or genetic cloning. An interest in debates from students or teachers can form a debate team, such as the debate team of Wiley College. Their debate team became so popular because it was the first black debate team to challenge Harvard. The three debates mentioned in the movie “The Great Debaters” were about unemployment relief, Negros being admitted to white universities, and civil disobedience.

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 The first debate is against Paul Quinn College and the resolved is on how unemployment relief should have ended when The Great Depression ends. The Wiley college debaters are against this and believe unemployment relief should continue, because how can a man grow when society gives him nothing in return. The debater Henry Lowe said, one of the most “powerful source imaginable” in favor of social welfare is “the look in a mother’s face when she cannot feed her children”. How can someone tell their child they’re not able to feed them and still provide them with their basic needs. He also mentions how “A Roman general brought peace to a rebellious province… by killing all its citizens. Even his fellow Romans were shocked. One of them wrote, ‘Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant, ” which means ”They create desolation and call it peace”’. In other words, he basically said you can’t resolve a problem just by making a bigger one and call it a resolved issue. Hamilton Burgess debates ”He who does not work shall not eat”. That made sense when there was more work than men willing to do it, but now the times have changed and there’s less work than there are men. A counterargument made was when Paul Quinn debaters said, “to give the economy life, not tax it to death”. Henry Lowe reply’s with “Paul Quinn debaters … create desolation and call it peace. They would allow the unemployed to die so the economy can live”.

The second debate is against Oklahoma City College a white college and the resolved is negros being admitted to states universities. During the debate, Henry Lowe brings up the topic about slavery and says, “If someone didn’t force upon the South something it wasn’t ready for, I’d still be in chains, and Miss Booke here would be running from Old Massa”. He gives the understanding that sometimes people don’t want the change because it’s in their benefit to stay the same, but society needs it, so it’ll keep moving forward and grow. Samantha Booke also mentions some dates which in her words are dates that should be important to history because they signify the negro as “not just a color in the American fabric (but) the thread that holds it all together”. In “May 13, 1865: Sergeant Crocker, a Negro, is the last soldier to die in the Civil War”, “1918: The first U.S. soldiers decorated for bravery in France are Negroes Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts”, and “1920: The New York Times announces that the ”N” in Negro would hereafter be capitalized” (The Great Debaters). This signifies how a negro should be introduced into equality because they are just as important and equally qualified as any white man. After an Oklahoma debater says, “a time will come when negroes and whites will walk on the same campus, and we will share the same classrooms; but, sadly, that day is not today”. Samantha Booke them “would you kindly tell me, when is that day going to come? Is it going to come tomorrow? Is it going to come next week? In a hundred years?”. The day for blacks and whites to go to the same school and receive the same educations seems to be ignored by the whites because they’re scared of being outshined by a black student. They’re scared of a black man having a much more successful career than a white man. A counterargument used was by Henry Lowe and said “My opponent so conveniently chose to ignore the fact that W.E.B. DuBois is the first Negro to receive a Ph.D. from a white college called Harvard”’ which proves that any black man can receive an education just like a white man and be just as capable as they are. 

The third debate is against Harvard and the resolved is civil disobedience and how it’s a moral weapon in the fight for justice. James Farmer Jr. says, “In Texas, they lynch Negros” and mentions the incident they witnessed when they” saw a man strung up by his neck and set on fire” (The Great Debaters). This says a lot and how a white man is capable of doing this and won’t have to deal with any punishment. On the other hand, if the tables were turned a white man would do everything possible to have the black man punished for his actions. Farmer also mentions how in “In 1919, in India, 10,000 people gathered in Amritsar to protest the tyranny of British rule” and “General Reginald Dyer…. ordered his troops to fire into the crowd for ten minutes. Dyer said he had taught them ‘a moral lesson.’ Gandhi and his followers responded not with violence, but with an organized campaign of noncooperation”. Gandhi response wasn’t violence, but it was a peaceful and effective resolution. He adds on and says, “What was this Negro’s crime that he should be hung without trial? No matter what he did, the mob was the criminal. But the law did nothing”. A counterargument used was when the Harvard debater said ‘“Nothing that erodes the rule of law can be moral’ and Farmer’s response is “But there is no rule of law in the Jim Crow South, not when Negroes are denied housing, turned away from schools, hospitals, and not when we are lynched”. He emphasizes what negros have to go through in the Jim Crow South which is whites not following the law and using it to their benefit. They deny the negros so many opportunities. 

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To conclude, Whiley college debate team, unfortunately, didn’t beat Harvard but they did become the first black college to debate against them. The debate team consisted of Henry Heights who became a minister, James Farmer Jr. who led the Congress of racial equality, Henrietta Wells who became a social worker, and Melvin B. Tolson who became a world-renowned poet. I believe they proved a point which was any colored person is just as capable of being educated as a white man and can achieve even more if possible. They should be able to be accepted to any white college in the South if they are just as equally capable of anything. 

Works Cited

  1. Diner, H. (1999). The great debate: Debating localism, segregation, and the decline of public space. Journal of Urban History, 25(6), 760-793.
  2. Duffy, J. P. (2011). A Century of Debate over Civil Disobedience: No Serious Threat to Law and Order?. Duquesne Law Review, 49(1), 43-83.
  3. Fried, A. L., & Fleming, J. E. (Eds.). (2007). The American Debate over Slavery, 1760-1865. Routledge.
  4. Heaton, L. (2010). Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology. Routledge.
  5. Hirschman, A. O. (1970). Exit, voice, and loyalty: Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Harvard University Press.
  6. Hooker, L. (2016). Black and white Australians: Creating a nation. Allen & Unwin.
  7. Marable, M., & Mullings, L. (Eds.). (1997). Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices on Resistance, Reform, and Renewal - An African American Anthology. Rowman & Littlefield.
  8. O'Brien, D. M. (2005). Animal sacrifice and religious freedom: Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah. Journal of Church and State, 47(1), 1-29.
  9. Orlans, F. B., Lee, D. R., & Satchell, M. (1997). Animal welfare and the scientific use of animals in research: findings and recommendations. DIANE Publishing.
  10. Rushefsky, M. E., & Schatt, J. (2014). Public policymaking: An introduction. Routledge.
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