Era Bell Thompson

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Era Bell Thompson
Era Bell Thompson (13270027285).jpg
Portrait of Era Bell Thompson from the collection of Black Women Oral History Project.
Era Bell Thompson

(1905-08-10)August 10, 1905
DiedDecember 30, 1986(1986-12-30) (aged 81)

Era Bell Thompson (August 10, 1905 – December 30, 1986) was a graduate of the University of North Dakota (UND) and an editor of Ebony magazine. She was also a recipient of the governor of North Dakota's Roughrider Award. A multicultural center at UND is named after her.

Thompson was born on August 10, 1905 in Des Moines, Iowa,[1] the only daughter of Steward “Tony” Thompson and Mary Logan Thompson, the children of former slaves.

Early years[edit]

In 1914, her parents moved Thompson and her three brothers to Driscoll, North Dakota where they were the only black family in the small community, and she and her brothers were often the only African-Americans in the schools they attended. Thompson would find herself in similar situations for much of her youth and into early adulthood. She wrote years later of her ignorance of blacks before she moved to Chicago following her graduation from college.[2]

Thompson graduated from Bismarck High, where she had excelled in sports and pursued journalism, often to cope with the isolation she often felt. She enrolled at the University of North Dakota in 1925, and she excelled in track and field, breaking several school records, tying two national records and earning the distinction of being one of the state’s greatest athletes.[3] However, during her second year of college, an extended bout with pleurisy left her too debilitated to run track and forced her to leave school.

She moved to Chicago and worked in a variety of short-lived clerical jobs before landing one at a magazine. For three months and for a pay of ten dollars a week, she “learned how to run a magazine on hope, patience, and a very worn shoe string; to proofread and write advertising copy—and keep warm by burning magazines in an old fireplace,” Thompson writes in her autobiography. After an illness to her father she was forced to return to North Dakota, where she worked for the Rev.Robert O'Brian family[4] doing chores in exchange for financial support for her and her family

Literary career[edit]

She returned to college with the support of the Rev. Robert O'Brian family, and received a B.A. degree from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. Returning to Chicago, she did postgraduate work at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.[1][3] Initially unable to find a job in journalism, Thompson worked a number of small clerical jobs while continuing to write small personal writing projects and, thanks in part to a fellowship from Newberry Library,[1] an autobiography. Published in 1946, it is entitled American Daughter.[5][6]

In 1947, Thompson came to the attention of Ebony. She joined the magazine as associate editor. Two years after becoming co-managing editor, she began her foreign reporting in 1953. She was instrumental in shaping Ebony magazine’s vision and guiding its coverage for approximately forty years while serving in a variety of editorial capacities.

In 1954 she published a second book, Africa, Land of My Fathers,[7][8] based on a tour of 18 countries in Africa. Thompson was still listed as an editor of Ebony in 1985, an indication of her longevity with the publication. She was praised for her efforts in promoting both racial and gender understanding. She died in Chicago in 1986.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Cromwell, Adelaide M.; Adélaïde Cromwell Hill; Martin Kilson (1969). Apropos of Africa: sentiments of Negro American leaders on Africa from the 1800s to the 1950s. Routledge. p. 272. ISBN 0-7146-1757-1. Includes brief bio and a selection from Africa.
  2. ^ Broussard, J. & Cooley, Skye (2009). Ebony’s Era Bell Thompson Travels the World to Tell the True Story. American Journalism. accepted for publication.
  3. ^ a b Helm, Matt. "Thompson, Era Bell (1906-1986)".
  4. ^ Thompson, Era Bell. "Blacks Who Grew Up in White Homes". Ebony Magazine. June 1974;p. 94
  5. ^ Thompson, E. B. (1974, paperback edition) American Daughter. The University of Chicago Press. 296.
  6. ^ Guzman, Richard (2006). Black Writing from Chicago: in the world, not of it?. SIU Press. pp. 60–65. ISBN 0-8093-2704-X. Includes brief bio & selection from American Daughter.
  7. ^ Thompson, Era Bell (1954). Africa, land of my fathers. Doubleday. p. 281.
  8. ^ Announces, Vielles. "New Book by Era Bell Thompson - Jet Magazine, September 30, 1954". Retrieved 7 July 2010. Image of book review
  9. ^ Broussard, J. & Cooley, Skye (2009), "Ebony’s Era Bell Thompson Travels the World to Tell the True Story". American Journalism. accepted for publication. Thompson was a member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
  • Thompson, Era Bell (1946). American Daughter (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 119.


Further reading[edit]

  • Thompson, Era Bell. "Thompson, Era Bell". American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved March 25, 2017.

External links[edit]