In 1930-31 Tolson took a leave of absence from teaching to study for a Master's degree at Columbia University. His thesis project, "The Harlem Group of Negro Writers", was based on hisextensive interviews with members of the Harlem Renaissance. His poetry was strongly influenced by his time in New York. He completed his work and was awarded the master's degree in 1940.
Aftergraduation, Tolson and his wife moved to Marshall, Texas, where he taught speech and English at Wiley College (1924–1947). The small, historically black Methodist Episcopal college had a high reputationamong blacks in the South and Tolson became one of its stars.
In addition to teaching English, Tolson used his high energies in several directions at Wiley. He built an award-winning debate team,the Wiley Forensic Society. During their tour in 1935, they broke through the color barrier and competed against the University of Southern California, which they defeated.[dead link] There healso co-founded the black intercollegiate Southern Association of Dramatic and Speech Arts, and directed the theater club. In addition, he coached the junior varsity football team.
Tolson mentoredstudents such as James L. Farmer, Jr. and Heman Sweatt, who later became civil rights activists. He encouraged his students not only to be well-rounded people but also to stand up for their rights.This was a controversial position in the segregated U.S. South of the early and mid-20th century.
In 1947 Tolson began teaching at Langston University, a historically black college in Langston,Oklahoma, where he worked for the next 17 years. He was a dramatist and director of the Dust Bowl Theater at the university. One of his students at Langston was Nathan Hare, the black studies pioneer whobecame the founding publisher of the journal The Black Scholar.
In 1947 Liberia appointed Tolson its Poet Laureate. In 1953 he completed a major epic poem in honor of the nation's centennial, the...