The Great Debate is back!

Callie House - This Great Debate is dedicated to her memory and legacy of struggle.

Callie House – This Great Debate is dedicated to her memory and legacy of struggle.

After 10 years of retirement, Dr. Amiri Al-Hadid, Founder of the Great Debate and first chair and principal architect of the free standing Africana Studies department at Tennessee State University has returned to the “Cumberland’s fertile shore” to teach / coach the Great Debate in the TSU Africana Studies program on November 30.

In the Great Debate, an idea or concept is debated by three family groups, with each family adopting and representing a different approach to a problematic situation or dilemma and offering solutions and approaches to reaching a goal based on that family’s theoretical and philosophical orientation. A proposition in the form of a resolution is debated among the three families, with one proposing a thesis, another an anti-thesis, and a third a synthesis. Each family, comprised of currently enrolled TSU students, gives opening remarks, then offers rebuttals to the other two families, after which each family gives closing remarks. Judges — faculty and community members — score each argument by each family by specific criteria to determine which familiy wins the debate. After each of the opening, rebuttal, and closing argument segments, cultural vignettes will complement the energy and ideas generated.

The 2017-2018 resolution is as follows: “Resolved: TSU should be awarded land-grant reparations and a world class Africana Studies department to overcome a century of arrested development and cultural alienation.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. family’s thesis is a critical study of the Geier v. State of Tennessee case to determine if there is a legal predicate for awarding land-grant reparations and a world-class Africana Studies department to TSU.

The El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz family’s anti-thesis plan is to transform TSU into an African-Centered private University, because the Focus Act formula for state appropriations is based on “retention and graduation rates” and not “enrollment.” The synthesis John Coltrane plan is “diversity and inclusion” in TSU’s curriculum and demographics with a world class Africana Studies department under a multi-cultural paradigm.

“The Great Debate was started in the fall semester of 1985 as a cultural and intellectual forum to give students a better understanding of the zeitgeist of the Civil and Human Rights struggles of the1960’s,” says Al-Hadid Students enrolled this fall in AFAS 3590 The Great Debate, are reading Dr. Al-Hadid’s co-authored book, Between Cross and Crescent: Christian and Muslim Perspectives on Malcolm and Martin to get a better understanding of the theosophies of Dr. King, El-Hajj El-Shabazz, and John Coltrane. They are also reading A Touch of Greatness: A History of Tennessee State University by Dr. Bobby L. Lovett to get a better understanding of the role TSU played in the Civil and Human Rights struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.

Both Al-Hadid and Lovett worked for TSU for more than 35 years and were instrumental in establishing an internationally recognized department of Africana Studies at TSU (1994-2014). Unfortunately, draconian policies and plans demoted the department to a minor program after a decade. The Great Debate, will take place in the Floyd – Payne Campus Center (FPCC) Forum 210 on TSU Main Campus Thursday, November 30, 2017 from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., free and open to the public.

This presentation of the Great Debate is dedicated to Callie House (1861–1928), a leader of the campaign for reparations for slavery in the United States. Callie was born into slavery in Rutherford County, near Nashville, Tennessee. At twenty-two, she married William House; they had six children, five of whom survived. After William died, House supported her family as a washerwoman. House and Isaiah H. Dickerson traveled ex-slave states to gather support for the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association (MRB&PA), chartered August 7, 1897, with the goal of providing compensation to ex-slaves, mutual aid, and burial costs. At its peak, it claimed membership in the hundreds of thousands. In 2015 Vanderbilt University’s African American and Diaspora Studies Program renamed its research arm the Callie House Research Center for the Study of Black Cultures and Politics.

The Africana Studies Program and the Great Debate Honor Society cordially invite and welcome old and new fans of the Great Debate to experience “A culturally conscious and intellectually stimulating production.” For further information, contact Dr. Amiri Al-Hadid via email:

Editor’s Note: The author of this article is a member of the Great Debate Honor Society and has been present for the first Great Debate in 1985 and dozens since then, at TSU and across the country. He says it is not to be missed and is overjoyed to have it back.