Julius E. Thompson (1946-2007)
Robert E. Weems Jr., April 2008
Julius E. Thompson, professor of history and director of the Black Studies Program at the University of Missouri at Columbia, died of complications after a serious head trauma on October 26, 2007. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 15, 1946, Thompson attended elementary and high school in Natchez, Mississippi, and received his BA in history from Alcorn State University (1969). He subsequently earned his MA (1971) and PhD (1973) in American history at Princeton University where his adviser was James M. McPherson.
During the course of his career, Julius E. Thompson taught at a variety of institutions including Jackson State University (1973–80), Florida Memorial College (1981–83), the State University of New York at Albany (1983–88), the University of Rochester (1988–89), Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (1989–96), and the University of Missouri at Columbia (1996–2007). In addition, he served as a program officer for the Lilly Foundation, coordinating their grants program for historically black institutions (1980–81) and received a Fullbright Program Award to conduct research and lecture at the University of Zimbabwe (fall 1987).
Beginning with his PhD dissertation on Hiram R. Revels, one of two African Americans who represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate during the early days of Reconstruction, Thompson's research agenda included several works related to his home state. Besides his work on Revels, published in 1982, Thompson's other early books focused on the African American press in Mississippi. In fact, The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865–1985: A Directory (1988), The Black Press in Mississippi, 1865–1985 (1993), and Percy Greene and the Jackson Advocate: The Life and Times of a Radical Conservative Black Newspaperman, 1897–1977 (1994) contributed to Thompson's reputation as one the country's leading experts on the African American press. Besides his works related the black press in Mississippi, Thompson's other books related to the African American experience in the Magnolia State were Black Life in Mississippi: Essays on Political, Social, and Cultural Studies in a Deep South State (2001) and Lynching in Mississippi: A History, 1865–1965 (2006).
Along with being a respected historian, Julius E. Thompson was also a respected poet. His published poetry included three books: Hopes Tied Up In Promises (1970); Blues Said: Walk On (1977); and Mississippi Witness: Poems (2001). Moreover, he edited The Anthology of Black Mississippi Poets (1988).
Seemingly based upon his proficiency both as a historian and a poet, Julius Thompson's research agenda also included works that melded these two areas. His 1999 book, Dudley Randall, Broadside Press, and the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, 1960–95 represents a pioneering study of arguably the leading independent black publisher associated with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s. Along a similar vein, the manuscript he completed shortly before his death, Hoyt W. Fuller (1927–81): A Life in Black Literature and Journalism will make a significant contribution to African American historiography and literary studies. Fuller was the influential editor of Negro Digest, later renamed Black World, during the 1960s and 70s.
While Julius E. Thompson was productive scholar (whose output was even more impressive considering his definition of a word processor was a typewriter and legal pads), he was an equally proficient teacher and mentor. My enduring memory of Thompson in this regard involves a conference entitled "African Americans in the Land of Lincoln" we both attended at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville in early 1997. Several of his former students at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale took the time to drive to this conference just to see him. As I joked at the November 9, 2007 memorial service held for Thompson on the University of Missouri at Columbia campus, most professors' former students would not walk across the street to say "hello" or "thank you," let alone drive some distance to do so. Consequently, I doubt he will be forgotten by the students he worked with.
Besides being a productive scholar and a caring teacher and mentor, Julius E. Thompson was a good colleague who used his pronounced sense of humor to uplift those around him. The king of "one-liners," and possessor of a truly unforgettable laugh, his presence will be truly missed.
—Robert E. Weems Jr.
University of Missouri at Columbia