Melvin Beaunorus Tolson
Biography of Melvin Beaunorus Tolson
Melvin Beaunorus Tolson (February 6, 1898 – August 29, 1966) was an American Modernist poet, educator, columnist, and politician. His work concentrated on the experience of African Americans and includes several long historical poems. His work was influenced by his study of the Harlem Renaissance, although he spent nearly all of his career in Texas and Oklahoma.
Tolson is the protagonist of the 2007 biopic The Great Debaters. The film, produced by Oprah Winfrey, is based on his work with students at predominantly-black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and their debate with University of Southern California (USC). Tolson is portrayed by Denzel Washington, who also directed the film.
Born in Moberly, Missouri, Tolson was one of four children of Reverend Alonzo Tolson, a Methodist minister, and Lera (Hurt) Tolson, a seamstress of African-Creek ancestry. Alonzo Tolson was also of mixed race, the son of an enslaved woman and her white master. He served at various churches in the Missouri and Iowa area until settling longer in Kansas City. Reverend Tolson studied throughout his life to add to the limited education he had first received, even taking Latin, Greek and Hebrew by correspondence courses. Both parents emphasized education for their children.
Melvin Tolson graduated from Lincoln High School in Kansas City in 1919. He enrolled at Fisk University but transferred to Lincoln University, Pennsylvania the next year for financial reasons. Tolson graduated with honors in 1924. He became a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
Melvin Beaunorus Tolson Poems
The Unknown Soldier
I was a minuteman at Concord Bridge, I was a frigate-gunner on Lake Erie, I was a mortarman at Stony Ridge,
The Town Fathers
At the Courthouse Square On the Fourth of July, Beneath Old Glory's Pyrotechnic sky,
Down in the shipyard, day and night, The Galahads of the dock, Hard as the sinews of basin rock, Build an ocean cosmopolite.
King Oliver of New Orleans has kicked the bucket, but he left behind old Satchmo with his red-hot horn to syncopate the heart and mind.
Aunt Martha bustles From room to room Between attic and basement, With duster and broom.
The Idols of the Tribe
A State which, in the epoch of race poisoning, dedicates itself to the cherishing of its best racial elements, must some day be master of the world. —Mein Kampf
Her neon sign blared two Harlem blocks. In Aunt Grindle's Elite Chitterling Shop
The Dictionary of the Wolf
"We all declare for liberty," Lincoln said. "We use the word and mean all sorts of things: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread. Rifle the basket that thy neighbor brings."
Doubt not the artist and his age (though bald as the pilled head of garlic), married or divorced
An Ex-Judge at the Bar
Bartender, make it straight and make it two— One for the you in me and the me in you. Now let us put our heads together: one Is half enough for malice, sense, or fun.
Abraham Lincoln of Rock Spring Farm
I Along the Wilderness Road, through Cumberland Gap, The black ox hours limped toward Sunday's sun, Across a buff clay belt with scrawls of stone,
A Song for Myself
Rendezvous With America
I Time unhinged the gates Of Plymouth Rock and Jamestown and Ellis Island, And worlds of men with hungers of body and soul
The Birth of John Henry
The night John Henry is born an ax of lightning splits the sky, and a hammer of thunder pounds the earth, and the eagles and panthers cry!
An Ex-Judge at the Bar
Bartender, make it straight and make it two—
One for the you in me and the me in you.
Now let us put our heads together: one
Is half enough for malice, sense, or fun.
I know, Bartender, yes, I know when the Law
Should wag its tail or rip with fang and claw.
When Pilate washed his hands, that neat event
Set for us judges a Caesarean precedent.