Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

May 8, 1929

Guest post by Ellie Siwicki, undergraduate student at Manhattan College.

On May 8, 1929, Harlem student Welford Wilson took home the championship at the New York City Junior High School’s Oratory competition. This was a special win, not only because Wilson beat his entire junior high, but also because he was the only African-American student to achieve a top five spot and ultimately win the competition. At a time in American history when racial divides were strong, this was a huge accomplishment for Wilson (click to view article PDF).

Additionally, because the competition was based on pronunciation, vocabulary, and oratory skills, Wilson was able to crush the stigma that African Americans were not as educated as whites. To add to this, the competition’s officials were chosen from people in charge of multiple junior highs. Because of this, the argument that the heads of a Harlem-based school were biased in choosing an African-American student to win could not be made. Wilson’s winning was solely based on his dedication to the competition and his education.

Because of Wilson’s achievement at the local level, he was also given the opportunity to compete at City Hall and compete at the regional level. The regional level is made up of students from New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. This large amount of competition, although challenging, would allow Wilson to show off his skills against a large pool of other hardworking students. Although it was possible that other African-American students would be at the competition, Wilson’s presence alone would show case the achievements made by Wilson himself and the African-American community. 

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