In "The Great Debaters," explain what was hoped to be gained from Professor Tolson's reading to the incoming freshman class?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tolson's opening line to his students in his freshman debate class were from Hughes' poem, "I, Too."  The essence of the poem is to challenge Whitman's assertion made in "I Sing of America."  The poem speaks to a condition of the denial of voice by social reality.  In reciting this to his students as their opening into college, the freshman students are made to understand the role that racial identity and that color play in their consciousness and existence.  Professor Tolson is deliberate in wanting his students to think and critically reflect about their place in society as people of color.  Tolson wants them to question this position, seek to change it, and alter a competing notion of the good.  The poem suggest this, and Tolson's role as the debate coach provides an excellent opportunity to converge both realities into a moment that causes his students to ponder and ruminate on what the poem says and how their own lives reflect it.