When little Wiley thrust black colleges into the spotlight

A new Oprah Winfrey-backed movie about a team of black college debaters opens in theaters across the US on Christmas Day. "The Great Debaters," directed by and starring Denzel Washington, takes the usual Hollywood liberties in telling what is a true story about Wiley College of Marshall, Texas. In 1935, it stunned the established debating universe by winning the national championship, defeating the University of Southern California (although in the movie, Harvard is bested). Even now, this is all the more surprising because Wiley College, with an enrollment of 862, is among the smaller and lesser-known historically black colleges. The largest, based on the most recent year (2006) for which data are available, and the enrollment of each:

  • 1. Florida A&M 10,124
  • 2. North Carolina A&T 9,687
  • 3. Texas Southern 9,053
  • 4. Southern University and A&M College 7,335
  • 5. Howard University 7,309
  • 6. Tennessee State 7,112
  • 7. North Carolina Central 6,614
  • 8. Jackson State 6,523
  • 9. Morgan State5,955
  • 10. Prairie View A&M 5,813

– White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

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