Dunbar on Black Books
February 2000    



The Man

Julius E. Thompson is an accomplished scholar and historian, a skilled biographer, a widely anthologized poet, a committed teacher, and a seasoned academic who leads the impressive Black Studies Program at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Born in Vicksburg, Miss., and educated in the public schools in Natchez, he was admitted to Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss., upon graduation from high school. He was initiated into Delta Kappa Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., on December 9, 1966, while a student at Alcorn.

In the summer of 1967, while still a student at Alcorn, he took courses in history at Columbia University. In the summer of 1968 he did the same at Yale University. He was awarded a B.S. degree in history by Alcorn in 1969. He enrolled at Princeton University for graduate study and was awarded an M.A. degree in 1971 and a Ph.D. in 1973, both in American history. He held a Ford Foundation Doctoral Award during his Ph.D. studies.

In 1973 Thompson began his academic career as assistant professor of history at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, and remained there for eight years, gaining tenure and promotion to the rank of associate professor. While there he worked with both undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of History. He taught courses in Afro-American history, United States history, blacks in the South, black social & political history, and the Civil War and Reconstruction. He coordinated the department's History Forum Series for five years.

Professor Thompson spent the 1980-1981 academic year as a Program Officer in the Education Division of The Lilly Endowment, Inc., in Indianapolis, Indiana. There he coordinated grants to historically black colleges and universities and worked with the consultant-director of the Lilly Post-Doctoral Teaching Awards Program. In the fall of 1981 he accepted the position of Chairman of the Division and Professor of History at Florida Memorial College in Miami, where he taught undergraduate courses in Afro-American history, black leadership in the twentieth century, social science seminar and social science research. While at Florida Memorial College, Professor Thompson was director of a grant which the Social Science Division received from Lilly Endowment, Inc.

In fall 1983 Professor Thompson accepted a position as assistant professor of African & Afro-American Studies at the State University of New York at Albany. He taught both undergraduate and graduate courses covering Afro-American history, the black family, the history of the civil rights movement, black social and political thought in America, and urban life styles. He directed undergraduate studies from 1983-1987 and chaired the department in spring 1985.

In fall 1987 Thompson was awarded a Fulbright grant to conduct research and lecture on Afro-American history at the University of Zimbabwe. Following that, he spent the 1988-1989 academic year as a visiting scholar at the Frederick Douglass Institute at the University of Rochester doing research in Afro-American history. He taught courses in the black family, black women writers, city life in black America, and prisoners of conscience and treatment of history making literature.

In 1989 Professor Thompson moved to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He has said that he found his experience there to be singularly rewarding because of the large number of students that he found there who showed great promise for academic careers and for whom he served as a mentor. He taught courses in African-American history, history of Africa, the black family, introduction to black America, United States history to 1877, independent studies in black studies, and history of the new south. In 1996 he was called to the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Professor Thompson has engaged in sustained professional development as a teacher. He participated in National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars for College Teachers at Atlanta University in 1979 and at the University of Kansas in 1992. He also held an NEH Fellowship in 1994. As we mentioned above, he held a Fulbright Grant in 1987 for research at the University of Zimbabwe. Moreover, his prodigious scholarly output marks him as a world class scholar. His published poetry makes him a poet in his own right.

Julius Thompson is a specialist in Mississippi history. He wrote his 1973 Princeton doctoral dissertation on Hiram Revels, who was chosen in 1870 by the Mississippi legislature and became the first African-American senator in the U.S. Senate. Thompson's dissertation was published in book form in 1982. He has written three books on the black press in Mississippi and is said to be one of the most highly published writers among African-Americans who were born in Mississippi. We are aware of two books and an article on Mississippi history on which he is at work as we prepare this profile. He was appointed to the Alpha Phi Alpha Historical Commission in 1999 by General President Adrian Wallace and is currently a member of Beta Zeta Lambda Chapter, Jefferson City, Missouri.

Thompson's published poetry, found in anthologies and in periodicals, not to mention his other poetic works in progress, qualifies him as a poet in his own right. Since 1972 he has read his poetry widely in such places as Princeton, N.J., Albany, N.Y., Atlanta, Baton Rouge, and Carbondale. Clearly, Thompson's own status as a poet informs his portrait of Dudley Randall in his seventh and most recent book, Dudley Randall, Broadside Press and the Black Arts Movement, Detroit, Michigan, 1960-1995. Moreover, this well-researched book demonstrates again that Julius Thompson is a first-rate historian. The seamless presentation of the man, the press and the movement makes for a book of substantial significance. It is fitting that at the end of this century, this story of a man and his press that constituted the engine that drove a significant movement in African-American letters has not been left out, as it might well have been were it not for Julius Thompson the poet and historian. An important chapter in the history of African-American book publishing is supplied by this book.

His Work

The long-term significance of Julius Thompson's total work is already discernible, at the midpoint of his career, not only from his books on black Mississippi historical figures such as Hiram Revels and Percy Greene, and from his books on the black press in that state, and from his books of poetry, but from his teaching and his promotion of black men and women of letters in conferences at the University of Missouri at Columbia. His Dudley Randall, Broadside Press and the Black Arts Movement, Detroit, Michigan, 1960-1995, an insightful assessment of the contribution of Dudley Randall and of Broadside Press to black letters in the post-World War II era is surely the definitive work on the trio of subjects. Moreover, this is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future.

One of the significant contributions that Julius Thompson has made, or will make, is that emanating from his work as a professor, mentor, and director of the Black Studies Program at the University of Missouri, Columbia. When one considers the range of courses that he teaches and has taught, it is clear that he is in a position to influence students with a wide range of interests and professional objectives. As we indicated earlier in this essay, Professor Thompson has stated that one of the most satisfying experiences that he had in one of his teaching posts was teaching and mentoring a large number of academically promising students. We do not know of many world-class scholars who profess gaining such satisfaction from teaching and mentoring large numbers of students. We do know that satisfaction is reflexive in the circumstance. It is fair to conclude that there are apprentice scholars in the pipeline whose development is, or will be attributable to the influence of Julius Thompson.

Forums which Professor Thompson has organized and directed for his students and for the community around the University of Missouri at Columbia in the last two years alone provide a perspective from which we can discern the contribution which he makes not only to the students of that university and community, but to black men and women of letters from across this nation. In one such convocation, a poetry festival, he showcased Gwendolyn Brooks, Dudley Randall, and Margaret Walker among others. In another instance he brought Dr. Nikki Giovanni to the campus. It is not a coincidence that the four aforementioned poets were published by Broadside Press and subjects in Professor Thompson's Dudley Randall, Broadside Press and the Black Arts Movement, Detroit, Michigan, 1960-1995. The inescapable conclusion to which one comes in this instance is that Professor Thompson aptly assembles academics of his acquaintance, experiences from his own life to structure meaningful teaching and learning moments for his students. Moreover, when we take into consideration the fact that students submit papers, presentations and panel proposals for these convocations, we sense that real learning experiences are involved. It can be reasonably concluded that among these black young men and women are future men and women of letters gaining experience interacting meaningfully with currently distinguished men and women of letters - and all because of the acumen of Professor Thompson.

Another perspective on teaching and learning venues which Professor Thompson opens for his students, and in this instance for those of his colleagues from other campuses, came to our attention recently. This was a conference on the future of Africa which was held at the University of Missouri, Columbia, under the aegis of Professor Thompson and the Black Studies Program. It was organized around three distinct activities. The first was a round table discussion of major issues impacting the continent of Africa. The five panelists featured were: Dr. Thompson; his colleague Dr. Abdullahi A. Ibrahim, an historian there on the campus at Columbia; Dr. Tonya Price, a sociologist and anthropologist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; Dr. James Conyers, head of Black Studies at the University of Nebraska/Omaha; and Dr. Nancy Dawson, of the Black American Studies Program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. The second activity of the conference was a keynote address by Dr. Wendell P. Holbrooke, associate professor of Afro-American and African Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The third, and in many ways as significant an activity as the other two for all concerned, was a panel discussion on travel experiences in Africa participated in by seven students from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Surely these students, Henrietta Battle, Tarachel Benjamin, LaVell Hayes-Cox, Lesley R. Howell, Christopher Rutledge, George Williams, and Tarnell Williams came away from that conference with an invaluable experience.

As we look at the contribution of Julius Thompson the historian and of Julius Thompson the poet, we feel compelled to take note of, and call attention to, the contribution of Julius Thompson the teacher. He is a very able man who has had an unusually rich experience as a student, researcher, and teacher in some of the best universities in this nation and in Africa. He relishes the opportunity that he has had, and continues to have, to teach and mentor able students. Julius Thompson fits the prescription of Alexander Pope, the greatest English poet of the early 1700s, who said "Let such teach others who themselves excel."


    0865 Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-Segregation Era. by Adolph Reed. Univ. of Minnesota Press.
    Essays examining where black leadership has failed and where black action may yet succeed. [Source: "Books in Brief" NYTBR 12/12/99]

    0866 Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors. by Marian Wright Edelman. Beacon Press. [Source: advt, NYTBR, 12/12/99, p. 20]

    0867 Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit-Led Prophet: A Biography. by Richard Deats. Foreword by Coretta Scott King. New City Press. ISBN 1-56548-097-X.
    Readers will learn more about the spiritual King, whose faith in Jesus Christ was the foundation for his life and legacy. A chronology at the end of that book that highlights the major events of King's life. [Source: PW, 11/29/99]

    0868 I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. by Michael Eric Dyson. Free Press. ISBN 0-684-86776-1.
    Dyson attempts to reclaim King from biographers, conservatives and culturual pundits who, Dyson maintains, have molded the King myth to fit their own political agendas. This is not a linear biography, PW tells us, but is "a bracing, at times willfully subjective, political and cultural analysis in which Dyson's signature style is just as surprising and revolutionary as what he presents as King's true message." [Source: PW, 11/29/99]

    0869 In Search of Black America: Discovering the African-American Dream. by David J. Dent. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81072-7.
    This book is the result of four years of taping and hundreds of hours of interviews by Dent, a professor of journalism at New York University. The book provides "a startling overview of the middle class of America's black population." Of the book PW says, "Candid and consistently engaging, Dent's work contributes to a better understanding of the role of race in American life." [Source: PW, 12/6/99]

    0870 A Renaissance in Harlem: Lost Voices of an American Community. ed. Lionel C. Bascom. Avon/Bard. ISBN 0-380-97664-1.
    This book is a collection of essays produced by Work Progress Adminstration writers in the period 1934-1939. It includes work by later-to-be eminent writers such as Ralph Ellison and Dorothy West. PW says, "Bascom has produced a delightfully engaging and diverse portrait of an almost legendary black urban community." [Source: PW, 11/8/99]

    0871 "But They Can't Beat Us": Oscar Robertson and the Crispus Attucks Tigers. by Randy Roberts. Sports Publshing. ISBN 1-57167-257-5.
    Roberts, a Purdue University history professor, tells the story of the all-black basketball team from an all-black high school in Indianapolis won back-to-back state championships in 1955 and 1956. Led by the future NBA legend Oscar Robertson, they played in an era and a city beset by racial tensions. Roberts tells a good story about teamwork, perseverance and race, says PW. [Source: PW 11/8/99]

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.
--Mark Twain     

Copyright © 2000 by Harry B. Dunbar. All rights reserved.
Dunbar on Black Books