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 Post subject: Bethune-Cookman's Own Great Debaters of 1951 vs. Oxford
PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2008 4:21 pm 
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Participants remember B-CC's debate with Oxford
By LINDA TRIMBLE
Education Writer

DAYTONA BEACH -- A small, black Southern college takes on the debate team from a prestigious university in a David versus Goliath-type match.

That may sound like the story line from 'The Great Debaters,' a just-released film starring Denzel Washington, that will open Friday in Ormond Beach and Orange City.

But it's also the stuff of which legends were made at Bethune-Cookman College (now University), where two members of the debate team squared off in October 1951 against a touring team from England's Oxford University.

'Little ol' Bethune-Cookman did a lot of things,' said Cleo Higgins, a retired B-CC vice president who was the debate coach back in 1951 when students Andrew Steward and Olivia Scott took on the Brits.

'The Great Debaters,' on the other hand, is getting lots of publicity as a nominee for the Golden Globe for best drama. It tells the story of a debate team from all-black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and its 1935 triumphs over all its opponents, including the University of Southern California.

Television commercials promoting the film have been bringing back memories for the 84-year-old Higgins, who now lives in Jacksonville, and Carver Portlock, who was master of ceremonies for the debate as a B-CC freshman and now lives in Philadelphia.

They've been comparing notes over the phone for a couple of weeks now.

The debate took place in the college's White Hall. The topic was 'Any Attempt to Outlaw the Communist Party Endangers the Liberties Which it is Designed to Protect,' with Oxford taking the affirmative side and B-CC arguing against it.

Higgins and Portlock, 73, aren't the only ones who remember the debate.

William Rees-Mogg, one of the Oxford debaters and now a member of the House of Lords, remembered it well when contacted by telephone Wednesday at his home in Somerset, England.

'What a very friendly welcome we were given and how nice it was,' said Rees-Mogg, a 79-year-old former editor of The Times newspaper of London who still writes a column for the publication.

Rees-Mogg and BLEEP Taverne, also 79 and serving in the House of Lords, represented Oxford at the local debate. It was part of a tour of American colleges and universities sponsored by the Institute of International Education.

The friendly welcome in Daytona Beach was a contrast to the reception the Oxford debaters received in some American cities, Rees-Mogg said. Their visit came while a campaign led by U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy to root out Americans who supposedly supported the Communist party was raging across the country.

Rees-Mogg said viewers got so upset when the British visitors expressed anti-McCarthy views on a Columbus, Ohio, television program the station had to shut down its switchboard.

The winner of the local debate remains a mystery, with Higgins sure it was Bethune-Cookman and Rees-Mogg recollecting Oxford scored the victory.

Whatever the outcome, Portlock said the parallels to the new movie in which Washington plays a dynamic debate coach are clear from the promotional TV commercials.

'There were professors at Bethune-Cookman College who really challenged students to go above and beyond what we thought we were capable of,' he said. 'The teaching did not end in the classroom and the classroom period. It extended far beyond that.'

linda.trimble@news-jrnl.com


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 Post subject: Re: Bethune-Cookman's Own Great Debaters of 1951 vs. Oxford
PostPosted: Sat Feb 16, 2008 10:47 am 
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