Washington speaks to Oprah in an interview for O Magazine about his role in The Great Debaters.
Man, it just moved me. I felt an emotional connection. What I learned while doing research for the film is that many black colleges, like Wiley and Morehouse, opened during the decade following the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. That’s because education was believed to be the way out, so when millions of black people were finally let go after almost 250 years, boom, we opened schools. And that’s partly why Melvin Tolson’s debate team was able to beat these other national teams in the ’30s: Great thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Melvin B. Tolson couldn’t teach at schools like Harvard or Columbia. But the film is really about the kids and the journey of one boy in particular.