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Photographs - Collections - 1-1091 251-300 - #00262

Title: Era Bell Thompson
Dates: 1920-1970             

Collection Number: 00262

Quantity: 12 items

Abstract: Copy negatives and prints of personal photographs from Era Bell Thompson's photograph collection.

Provenance: North Dakota State Archivist Gerald G. Newborg received a letter dated September 29, 1986 from Ann Regan, Borealis Editor for Minnesota Historical Society Press making him aware that they had copied some images from Era Bell Thompson's personal photograph collection to be used on the cover of a reprint of Thompson's book "American Daughter." Regan suggested that the State Historical Society of North Dakota and the University of North Dakota would be interested in copying the images and adding them to their collection.  Ms. Thompson did not think that the two organizations would have an interest, but when contacted by Newborg (letter dated October 9, 1986) she agreed to have her magazine "Ebony" make copies and send them to add to the State Historical Society of North Dakota photo collections (Letter dated October 17, 1986). The photographs were received on October 27, 1986 and acknowledged with a letter dated October 28, 1986 and signed by State Archivist Gerald G. Newborg. Sharon Silengo inventoried, scanned and added item level descriptions and wrote a finding aid for the collection on January 22, 2018.

Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.
Copyrights: Copyrights to materials in this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs.  Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code and an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.
Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.        

Related Collections:
10157 Oral History interview with Era Bell Thompson and Helen J. Downing 1111A & B 
11118 Era Bell Thompson

Biographical Sketch

An “American Daughter” had gone home. Era Bell Thompson, a pioneer editor of Ebony who started with the magazine in its second year, was buried, according to her wishes, in the family plot in Driscoll (N.D.).  Ms. Thompson died December 29 [1986] in her home in Chicago after 80 years of a life that greatly exceeded her fondest dreams.
The author of the book, American Daughter, (University of Chicago Press, 1946) about growing up in North Dakota, Ms. Thompson once said, “Usually an autobiography is written near the end of a long and distinguished career, but, not taking any chances, I wrote mine first, then began to live.” And live she did!

The book brought her to the attention of John H. Johnson, the young and enterprising publisher of two new national magazines – Negro Digest and Ebony. He was searching for Blacks who could write and in Ms. Thompson he felt that he had found a jewel. The problem was that Ms. Thompson was working for the Illinois state Employment Service, the best job she had been able to find since coming to Depression-ridden Chicago in 1933 with a degree in journalism from Morningside College in Sioux City, IA. Johnson made a personal visit to her tiny apartment under the “El” tracks at 63rd and South Park and persuaded her to become an editor.

Life before Johnson Publishing Co. had not been exactly dull for Ms. Thompson. Born on August 10, 1906, in Des Moines, IA, she was the only girl in a family of six – her mother and father and three brothers. Her father had been a waiter, cook and coal miner before moving the family to North Dakota where he became a farmer, operator of a second-hand store and a messenger at the State Capitol building. As a child Ms. Thompson survived the bitter winters of the Dakota prairies, the early death of her mother and the family teasing of her brothers. Tiny and tough (she was only 4’8”), she became a track star when she enrolled at North Dakota State University in Grand Forks [University of North Dakota], setting records in telegraphic meets against major colleges. In her second year at UND she was taken in by the family of the Rev/ Edward O’Brian and became so much a part of the family that when Rev. O’Brian was named president of Morningside College the next year, Ms. Thompson went along as a part of the family to finish her college training.

She left her ISES job in 1947 to edit Negro Digest and Ebony and her rise was rapid. She became co-managing editor in 1951 and opted to become international editor in 1964. She was international editor until her death.

One of the most prominent Black women journalists in the nation, Ms. Thompson found no story too difficult nor any land too dangerous as she covered stories throughout Africa, South and Central America, Europe and Asia. Her study of amalgamation of the races in Brazil was one of the best stories ever done on the “race problem” in the country which was not supposed to have one, and she was one of the first to look into the problems of “brown babies” – the offspring of Black soldiers in Europe and Asia. In 1954, she published her second book, Africa, Land of My Fathers (Doubleday).

An advocate of women’s lib long before it became popular, Ms. Thompson did not accept the terms “women’s stories” and “men’s stories.” She did them all. She was awarded a citation by the Capital Press Club in 1961, honorary degrees by Morningside and the UND and she was selected by Radcliffe as one of 50 Women of Courage to be recorded and photographed for an oral history study.

At a memorial service (she requested no funeral) in Chicago’s Sixth Grace Presbyterian Church attended by some 200 close friends and relatives, on Jan. 8, Ms. Thompson was lauded by her friend and employer, Publisher John H. Johnson, and eulogized by Dr. A. L. Reynolds, pastor emeritus of the church. Included among the floral tributes were those from the (Carter G. Woodson Library, the repository of her papers) and from North Dakota Governor George A. Sinner who earlier named her a Ranger [Roughrider], top honor given by the state.

Source: Ebony magazine, March 1987, p. 25

00262-00001 Era Bell Thompson holding handlebars of bicycle, Bismarck (N.D.) ca. 1920
00262-00002 Era Bell Thompson as a young girl wearing athletic outfit full length standing, Bismarck (N.D.) ca. 1920
00262-00003 Era Bell Thompson riding bareback on horse Bismarck (N.D.) ca. 1920
00262-00004 Era Bell Thompson and her father in front of their Second Hand Furniture Store in downtown Mandan (N.D.) ca. 1920
00262-00005 Era Bell Thompson in dress and heels Bismarck (N.D.) ca. 1920
00262-00006 Era Bell Thompson three quarter length seated portrait wearing jacket with checkered skirt, Bismarck (N.D.) ca. 1920
00262-00007 Era Bell Thompson wearing white jacket and calf length pleated skirt oxfords in front of pine tree Bismarck (N.D.) ca. 1920
00262-00008 Era Bell Thompson in Liberia, Africa 1953
00262-00009 Era Bell Thompson as an older woman, head and shoulders, portrait by Vandell Cobb 1970
00262-00010 Era Bell Thompson as a younger woman wearing black v-necked shirt, head and shoulders formal portrait, Bismarck (N.D.) 1925
00262-00011 Era Bell Thompson as an older woman, profile head and shoulders portrait, copied from publication 1960
00262-00012 Era Bell Thompson Bismarck High School Senior class composite, Bismarck (N.D.) 1924

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