Friday, August 14, 2015

Footnote to Uncle Harlin's Obituary

Harlin Perryman
Gypsy Scholar

In speaking with my mother over dinner the other night, I learned that my uncle Harlin had beaten Boris Alexander at chess when Alexander visited Salem in 1943 or 1944.

"Who's Boris Alexander?" I asked.

"He was a professor of political science and economics at LeMoyne College, in Memphis, Tennessee," my mother explained. She added the details that he was originally a refugee from the Bolshevik Revolution and that he was in Salem looking for a peaceful place for his mother to live.

I decided to look into what I could find on this man, and here are some details on his position as a debate coach in the 1930s:
"Team To Debate Negro Squad: Lemoyne College Students Will Oppose Adams, Hartmann on Question of Constitutionality"

Boris Alexander, debate coach of LeMoyne College for Negroes, Memphis, Tenn., brings a team of outstanding speakers to meet Stanford next Wednesday for what promises to be one of the most interesting debates ever held on the Stanford campus.

Bob Adams and Bob Hartmann, sophomores who get their first big call when they meet the Negroes, will represent the Farm [i.e., Stanford].

Four on Team

The colored team is composed of four brilliant students: Charles W. Gilton, Robert Green, James S. Byas, and John H. Jones. Alexander has not yet revealed which two he will use against Adams and Hartman.

The question confronting the two teams will be, "Resolved, that Congress should be allowed by a two-thirds majority vote to over-ride a decision of the Supreme Court declaring an act of Congress unconstitutional." Stanford will uphold the affirmative.

Decision To Be Given

The debate is to begin promptly at 8 o'clock in the Assembly Hall.

A decision will be given. Coach Alexander was the first person ever to arrange an interracial debate south of the Mason-Dixon line. He was born in Russia and studied in England. He received his Ph.D. degree from LeMoyne and an M.A. degree in international law from the University of Illinois.

(The Stanford Daily, Volume 89, Issue 9, 20 February 1936)
Interesting to learn that he got his doctorate from LeMoyne. Perhaps he was already teaching there on the basis of his M.A. and worked on his doctorate while teaching. Here's more on the man:
"Soph Debaters Face Negro Team: Adams and Hartman Get First 'Big Chance' with Lemoyne College Tomorrow Night"

Bob Adams and Bob Hartmann, the two outstanding sophomore debaters, pair together for Stanford Wednesday evening at 8 o'clock in the Assembly Hall for their first "big chance." They face a team of Negroes from LeMoyne College, Tennessee, who come up to argue the negative side of the Pi Kappa Delta question.

Hartmann is the freshman debate manager. He won the California Coast League Championship held at the Golden Gate Junior College last year. He and Max Gruenberg took third in the West Division Debating Association Tournament in which more than 200 Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast colleges participated.

Adams debated against San Mateo Junior College this year, and was an alternative for the University of Melbourne debate.

The LeMoyne debaters are meeting fifteen Coast colleges while on tour. Their coach is Boris Alexander, one of the originators of interracial debating.

The question to be discussed is, "Resolved: that Congress should be allowed by a two-thirds majority vote to override a Supreme Court decision declaring an act of Congress unconstitutional."

(The Stanford Daily, Volume 89, Issue 12, 25 February 1936)
And there's another report from Stanford:
"Debate Team Discusses Court: Bob Hartmann, Bob Adams Meet LeMoyne College Students In Non-decision Controversy"

John Jones and Robert Green of LeMoyne College upheld the finality of Supreme Court decision last night in a non-decision debate against Bob Adams and Bob Hartmann of Stanford in the Assembly Hall. Boris Alexander, coach of the Negro team, was chairman of the discussion.

Question Stated

Expressive of the "quotationed" type of argument used by the visiting team was Bob Hartmann's comment in the final rebuttal speech, "We knew when we came on to the stage this evening that we were going to match wits with two brilliant speakers, but we had no "idea we would have to debate against Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Professor Frankfort, and a host of others!"

Formal statement of the question is: "Resolved, that Congress should be allowed by a two-thirds majority vote to over-ride a decision of the Supreme Court, declaring an act of Congress unconstitutional."

Affirmative Argument

Main argument of the affirmative was that the constitution was not drawn up as a rigid set of laws to curtail progress of a posterity whose civilization set-up was far in advance to that of the time the document was written.

Alexander said in response to the welcome made to the LeMoyne team by Wayne Richardson. Stanford debate manager, "We have heard about the beauty of the Stanford campus, but this is one of those few times when words fail to describe that beauty."

(The Stanford Daily, Volume 89, Issue 14, 27 February 1936)
There appears to have been some non-decision "controversy," insofar as I can deduce from the point that a decision was expected but none given. Some reader might want to look into that point. Meanwhile, here's one more report, this one on two of the LeMoyne debaters visiting Australia:
"American Debaters: Visit to Canberra"

Three interesting visitors to Canberra will arrive to-day. They are Professor Boris Alexander and Messrs. Gilton and Byas, from LeMoyne College, Tennessee.

Professor Alexander, who is well known in the U.S.A. as a radio commentator on international affairs, is the coach of the two student debaters who have had unusual success in New Zealand and in Australia, where they are now on tour. In Auckland a crowd of 800 attended one of their meetings.

Canberra people will have an opportunity to hear them debate against a Canberra team consisting of Messrs. Speed and Harry at 8 p.m. in the Albert Hall, on Monday next.

The Americans will argue "That the Policy of the U.S.A. of Isolation is Justifiable," and the Canberra team will deny it. Sir Robert Garran will preside.

Messrs. Gilton and Byas are both graduates in Science at LeMoyne College, and have had a distinguished career in debating in America, being members of the first Negro debating team to take part in a national debate in America. All are noted for their ready sense of humour, and they have never failed to keep their audience in hilarious mood by their witty sallies, sometimes at the expense of their opponents, sometimes directed against themselves. Professor Alexander, who is a White Russian by birth, will also have something of interest to say to the meeting.

A charge of one shilling will be made to cover expenses incurred by the Canberra University College Students' Association. The University Association of Canberra is also cooperating.

(The Canberra Times, Saturday, September 17, 1938)
The reference to Alexander as a "White Russian" is not a remark on his pigmentation, but to his politics as an 'anti-red' - "red" being the color symbolic of communism and "white" being the color of the uniforms worn by the anti-Bolsheviks.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that "Professor Alexander . . . is well known in the U.S.A. as a radio commentator on international affairs." He would appear to be a significant somebody or other. Keep in mind that this was before television, during the hey-day of radio. I wonder if Alexander referred on radio to his Salem visit, for my mother added that Alexander had said of his visit that he had been "beaten in chess by a seventeen-year-old Ozark boy." Mom added that Alexander "considered himself good at chess and seemed amused at his loss."

Harlin himself was good at chess, but I bet that in a second match Harlin would have faced a more difficult, more determined opponent.

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