The Morehouse Debate Team was initially established in 1903 as a literary society and has participated in intercollegiate debate since 1906. Over the next century and more, the Morehouse College Debate has played an often overlooked but critical role in the academic culture at the college. It has also served as an intellectual sharpening block for some of the world’s most influential and brightest thinkers.
The debate team truly began to grow and expand under the tutelage of then-Mathematics professor Benjamin Elijah Mays in 1921, who was recruited from the University of Chicago by John Hope, Morehouse’s first African-American president. Mays’ efforts as a debate coach turned the team into an organization that exemplified the school’s emphasis on oration, composition, and argumentation as skills to be mastered by all students. Mays also had a very immediate and early impact on perhaps Morehouse’s most famous team partners to date: Howard Thurman and James Nabrit. Thurman went on to become a renowned theologian and civil rights activist who was one of the first to talk with Mohandas Gandhi to discuss Non-Violent Direct Action. Nabrit would become an Ambassador for the United Nations and a critical legal member of the NAACP legal team in the Brown vs. Board decision in 1954. The two were of course very successful during their tenure at Morehouse, winning several debate competitions.