About the Author
Era Bell Thompson
Former international editor of Ebony magazine, Era Bell Thompson (10 August 1905–30 December 1986) grew up a child of the only black family in Driscoll, North Dakota. This noted journalist and author has written several books, including American Daughter, which tells the story of her youth in North Dakota.
Thompson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and in 1917, moved with her family to the Driscoll area where she attended school. She later studied at the University of North Dakota, where she established five state women's track records and tied two national intercollegiate women's track records. She graduated from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, with a degree in journalism.
Thompson served as associate editor of Ebony for four years, co-managing editor from 1951 to 1964, and was then international editor of Johnson Publishing Company. Her book, Africa: Land of My Fathers, recounts her frustrated attempts to comprehend her ancestral heritage, and many of her later essays denounce men's treatment of women regardless of race and class. She was awarded North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award in 1976 (see the portrait of Thompson that now hangs in the North Dakota Capitol above).
Her alma mater, the University of North Dakota, has named the multi-cultural student services center in her honor: The Era Bell Thompson Multicultural Student Services Center.
Black North Dakotans were indeed something of a rarity in 1914, when young Era Bell Thompson and her family moved to a farm near the small community of Driscoll. In fact, when the Thompsons traveled thirty miles to join two other black families for Christmas dinner, "there were fifteen of us, four percent of the state's entire Negro population."
In this lively autobiography, Thompson describes the experiences of her North Dakota girlhood: busting broncos with her brothers; making friends with Norwegian and German neighbors; meeting Governor Lynn J. Frazier, for whom her father worked as a personal messenger; running footraces at picnics (and knowing that people were betting on her to win); selling used furniture in Mandan; working her way through college in Grand Forks; and facing prejudice without the support of a large black community. She also discusses the impact of her North Dakota background on her later adventures in St. Paul and Chicago.