Era Bell Thompson Multicultural Center History
Era Bell Thompson was born on August 10th, 1906, in Des Moines, Iowa; but was raised in Driscoll, North Dakota. Her father was a farmer, proprietor of a second hand furniture store. After her father died, she operated the business and entered college. Ms. Thompson was taken in by the family of Richard Riley, who later became college president in Iowa, where Ms. Thompson later moved.
In 1933, after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Morningside College in Iowa, she later studied at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She also received honorary doctorate degrees from Morningside College in 1965 and University of North Dakota in 1969.
Later that year she moved to Chicago in the depths of depression and began her employment by doing house work.
She said some jobs denied her because of her color, and that the experiences helped her understand the anger of the black in the urban ghetto, a feeling she hadn't been familiar with living and being raised in North Dakota.
Ms. Thompson, in 1945, worked as an interviewer for Illinois State Employment Services, when she received Newberry Fellowship from the Library in Chicago to write a story of her girlhood in North Dakota.
The Book, "An American Daughter" which retraced her life, was published in 1946 and reissued again in 1985.
She states in the record of her poverty stricken childhood of the long bitter months on a North Dakota farm when starvation was imminent, of the struggles to make a home, to go to school, even to find a place to sleep, there is never one word of bitterness...
Ms. Thompson received innumerous awards for the upward movement of Blacks, especially women. In 1947 she became associate editor of Negro Digest, she joined Ebony Magazine after its two years of being started. She was co-managing editor of Ebony from 1951 to 1964 and international editor from 1964 until she retired. With many travels to Africa she gathered information for the book "Africa, Land of My Fathers." (Doubleday, 1954)
She was advocate of women's lib long before it became popular. "She was one of the early journalists," said Herbet Nipson, executive editor of Ebony. In February 1986 Ms. Thompson was among 50 black women featured in "Women of Courage," A touring photography exhibit at the Chicago Public Library Cultural Center to commemorate Black History Month.
A personal friend describers her as "A loving friend who always expressed concern about others." Ms. Thompson later said, "I was very lucky to have grown up in North Dakota where there was little awareness of race."
In her autobiography she writes, "When nearing the end of your career you write your autobiography, but not taking chances, I wrote mine first, then began to live."
She will be missed, Ms. Era Bell Thompson, August 10th, 1906 to December 30th, 1986.
--Audrey J. Henderson-Nocho
Video of our move to UND Memorial Union, 3rd floor