Monday, January 14, 2008

See and hear Henrietta Bell Wells

Thousands of visitors to this blog have come in search of Henrietta Bell Wells (see all our posts on her here), the lone female on the Wiley College 1930 debate team that inspired the movie The Great Debaters, directed by and starring Denzel Washington. Jeff Porro, a speechwriting colleague who developed the story for the movie, sent us this article from Episcopal Life Online, where you can see a photo of Wells, the only surviving member of the debate team, and read a rare interview with her. It yields more inspiration for eloquent women, including this description:
She was a valedictorian at her graduation from Houston's Phyllis Wheatley High School and attended the all black Wiley College on a modest scholarship from the YMCA. She worked three jobs to make ends meet, she said, and when her English professor asked her to try out for the debate team, she wasn't sure what that was. "We didn't have debates in high school," she said. "I guess I did all right. He stood at the back of the chapel and I read from the front. That was his test."
And Wells--who says she talked Washington into playing Melvin Tolson in the movie--offers this advice:
What's her advice for today's college students? "Learn to speak well and learn to express yourself effectively," she said. Her training as one of the "Great Debaters" carried Wells through a successful life and career and, at 95, continues to serve her well as the interviewers line up at her door.
We've had visitors from all over the United States, and as far away as Japan, Denmark and Africa looking for information on Wells--clearly, an eloquent woman whose story resonates today.