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Sat, 04.03.1869

John L. Thompson, Lawyer born

John Thompson

The birth of John Lay Thompson in 1869 is marked on this date. He was a Black businessman and lawyer.

Thompson was a native of Iowa's Decatur County, and a graduate of the Iowa Business College in 1896 and Drake University's law school in 1898. He secured political positions considered especially prestigious for African Americans in an age of tokenism and unchecked discrimination. A Republican, Thompson was appointed file clerk for the Iowa Senate in 1894 and file clerk for the Iowa General Assembly in 1896.

His most noted accomplishment was newspaper journalism. He edited and/or published the Iowa Bystander from 1896 through 1922. This was one of the first Black newspapers in the state. During this time Thompson built a multiracial readership with a statewide network of correspondents. In 1899 he became the first Black elected to the Polk County Republican Central Committee. The following year he ran unsuccessfully for justice of the peace in Des Moines Township.  He also served as Polk County's deputy county treasurer, and in 1911 and 1912 was deputy clerk in the Hall of Archives Historical Building in Des Moines.

In 1917, he published a history of the Black officer's camp at Fort Des Moines and, with his wife Maud Watkins-Thompson, served in a number of community leadership positions. Through Thompson's efforts, the Black citizens of Iowa gained a weekly communications network which he, and later J.B. Morris, would maintain for more than 75 years. John L. Thompson died on July 23rd 1930.

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Outside In, African American History in Iowa 1838-2000
by Bill Silag, Susan-Koch Bridgford, Hal Chase
Copyright 2001
Published by the State Historical Society if Iowa
ISBN 0-8033-013-1

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