Melvin Beaunorus Tolson Sr. was born on February 6, 1898 in Moberly, Missouri. He was a 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
Tolson was portrayed in the 2007 film 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 spent nearly all of his career in Texas and Oklahoma. Langston Hughes described Tolson “the most famous Negro Professor in the Southwest.” Tolson died August 29, 1966.