Melvin B. Tolson (Poet) – Bio, Birthday, Family, Age & Born

Melvin B. Tolson

Melvin Beaunorus Tolson was an American poet, educator, columnist, and politician. As a poet, he was influenced both by Modernism and the language and experiences of African Americans, and he was deeply influenced by his study of the Harlem Renaissance. As a debate coach at the historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, Tolson led a team that pioneered interracial college debates against white colleges in the segregated South. This work was depicted in 2007 biopic The Great Debaters, produced by Oprah Winfrey and starring Denzel Washington as Tolson.

About Melvin B. Tolson

Modernist poet, author, and educator whose works include Libretto for the Republic of Liberia and Dark Symphony. A Gallery of Harlem Portraits, a posthumous collection of his poems, was published in 1979.

Before Fame

He was one of four children born to an African-American Methodist minister. He studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.


His Master’s thesis at Columbia University dealt with important writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Family Life

He married Ruth Southall, with whom he subsequently had four children.


He is portrayed by actor Denzel Washington in the 2007 film The Great Debaters.

Information related to Melvin B. Tolson

  • The Great Debaters – The Great Debaters is a 2007 American biographical drama film directed by and starring Denzel Washington. It is based on an article written about the Wiley College debate team by Tony Scherman for the spring 1997 issue of American Legacy.
  • Wiley College faculty
  • Mayors of places in Oklahoma
  • African-American people in Oklahoma politics
  • Muscogee people
  • Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) alumni
  • Fisk University alumni
  • African-American poets

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