Flourishing . . . In a Time of Debate

February 27, 2020 • Posted in Blog

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Ben Voth, Ph.D., associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs at Southern Methodist University, is also director of debate at SMU. His book, James Farmer, Jr.: The Great Debater (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017) provides exemplars of debate from the previous century – ones from whom we could learn much today. Voth’s book is not a biography of James Farmer, Jr., but a dissection of how Farmer, reared by his capable parents (his father was both a minister and a professor) and trained by Melvin Tolson at Wiley College, used rhetoric properly fitted to action to change the world. Author Voth points to a number of lessons we in the present can benefit from learning from James Farmer, Jr.:

1) Farmer did not allow partisanship to swallow up his passion for racial justice
2) Farmer did not debase his tactics or his opponents in loss
3) Farmer continually believed opponents could be persuaded by reasoning
(p. 122).

Voth’s book is a result of much in-depth research, and successfully elucidates the influence of James Farmer, Jr. on the Civil Rights Movement. Those who influenced Farmer, and those influenced by Farmer, are also included. A fitting conclusion to the book is it twenty-paged appendix, which contains an author-edited transcript of the March 7, 1962, debate between James Farmer, Jr. and Malcolm X, at Cornell University.


1) See Goodreads review here.
2) See recent essay on race relations by Dr. Carol M. Swain here.