In order to show that American writing instruction in colleges was actually more dynamic than some of these earlier histories suggest, Gold turns to some college environments that were "at the margins," and thus sometimes ignored. He looks at the practices of Wiley, a black college in Texas, focusing specifically on one professor from 1923-1947; Texas Woman's University from 1901-WWII; and East Texas Normal College from 1889-1917. His intent is to trace rhetorical practices that merge current-traditional practices with more progressive methods, demonstrating that this period in American rhetorical history was not as bleak as some reports would suggest.
I'm reading the part about Wiley, and I found some really interesting connections to contemporary rhetorical practices. Gold explains that oratorical practices (which had fallen out of favor with some of the more classical curricula at white schools) remained a very important part of black schools--both in the classroom and as extracurricular activities. Debate clubs were incredibly popular and drew large, paying crowds to watch the action.
Gold's research looks at the practices of Melvin B. Tolson, an English professor and debate coach at Wiley. Tolson was a progressive thinker who was very strict but very caring. His students were greatly impacted by his methods, and many went on to great and historically significant careers. Tolson insisted that "creating an illusion of naturalness was . . . the essence of being human" and believed (in the early 1900's) that "race was a social construct and one deeply entwined with class divisions. Truth to him was epistemic, 'a matter to be arrived at by collective argument.'"
As a debate coach, he broke ground. He led his team to "the first interracial debate in the United States" in Chicago in 1930. He then participated in the first interracial debate in the South (Oklahoma City) in 1931. Gold also had this to say about the legacy he created through the debate team:
During Tolson's tenure as debate coach, the team traveled an estimated sixty thousand to seventy-five thousand miles. In the 1930 season alone, in addition to traveling to Chicago, the team met Arkansas State University, Virginia Union University, and Wilberforce University in Ohio, then met Fisk at home, and began touring with them in exhibition matches in Texas. . . By 1935, the team had been to Wisconsin, Kansas, New Mexico, and California. That a team from a small back college could travel so widely--much less compete successfully--during the height of the Depression is a remarkable achievement.Also noted in Gold's book is a little about Tolson's own history. I learned that he was born around Moberly, Missouri and attended Lincoln High School in Kansas City. Interestingly, this is the high school my husband attended, and they are currently making headlines for their national performance in debate.
This team was having a hard time finding the budget to continue its travels and participation, and it recently entered a contest with State Farm to get some more funding. The contest was held through social media votes, and Lincoln Prep was one of the winning teams, so they will receive a $25,000 grant to help them support their extracurricular endeavor. (The social media aspect demonstrated to me something that Gold said about debate's place in black schools: "oratorical competition served, practically and symbolically, as a means of both individual and community achievement.")