The Great Debaters: William Neal Brown vs Malcolm X

Paul Hond in Columbia Magazine:

In late October of 1961, William Neal Brown ’50SW, a professor of social work at Rutgers, received an urgent telephone call from his friend Clyde Ferguson. Ferguson, a Rutgers law professor, had been scheduled to take part in a debate the following week on the Rutgers-Newark campus with Malcolm X, the fiery Black Muslim orator from Harlem. The topic was to be “Integration or Separation.”

Great_debaters_2_smGreat_debaters_1_smBut now, Ferguson told Brown confidentially, he would have to pull out. It seemed that Ferguson, who was serving as general counsel for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and who would later become U.S. ambassador to Uganda, had received a call from the White House, advising him that if he appeared with Malcolm X his career in public service would be jeopardized. “I need a replacement, Neal,” Ferguson said. “I asked the students for ideas, and they all said, ‘Get Brown.’”

This vote of faith meant a lot to Brown. With no political aspirations of his own to protect, and with just days to prepare, he agreed to pinch-hit for Ferguson.

More here.