February 25, 2015
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1965: THIS YEAR IN IOWA’S AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY
In January 1965, WILLIE STEVENSON GLANTON of Polk County AND JAMES H. JACKSON of Black Hawk County were the first African Americans to be sworn and seated in the Iowa Legislature.
GLANTON was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas to parents who were active Democrats. Nurturing a dream of becoming a lawyer, she studied for year at Arkansas State after high school graduation and then went on to Tennessee A and I State University in Nashville where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business education. After taking a national government exam that led her to Washington D.C., she attended the Robert H. Terrell Law School and took employment with the Ordinance Ward of the War Department. It was in D.C. that she would meet her future husband, Luther T. Glanton Jr. who had already distinguished himself during WWII as an army intelligence officer, and who during the time of their engagement, was assistant Polk County attorney in Des Moines (and who would later being appointed, and later elected, as one of Iowa’s first African American judges).
Despite the segregation and discrimination Glanton experienced in Des Moines, she would establish a law office on Ninth Street. And then she established herself in the community by joining the League of Women Voters, and becoming active in the Democratic Club, the Democratic Women’s Club, the John F. Kennedy Club and the Roosevelt Club—all of which served as the organizational foundation for political and social activities and in which she gained the reputation for being a hard worker and contributor to campaigns. This grassroots work would bring her to the attention of respected journalist Gordon Gammack who would ask her to consider running for office. It would be Glanton’s first attempt, and the first attempt by an African American woman, in June 1964 and lead to her serving in the Iowa House as a member of the 61st General Assembly.
JAMES H. JACKSON joined Glanton in Iowa political history by being one of the first two African Americans elected to the Iowa Legislature. Jackson was a product of the Waterloo public school system, graduating from Waterloo East High School, and attended State College of Iowa (now the University of Northern Iowa) where he was an outstanding basketball star.
His initial political included the prestigious and historic Antioch Baptist Church, the NAACP, the Family Services League, the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), and the Knights of Pythias (Iowa Chapter Black Masons). Divided by a train track into eastern and western halves, Waterloo was a racial ‘hotspot’ dating back to the immigration of African Americans from the deep south to break the railroad strikes in the 1910s.
Jackson served one term in the Iowa House of Representatives (1965 to 1967) before going on to a successful business career.
Written by Jacqueline Thompson on behalf of the Affirmative Action Committee of the Polk County Democrats