Clara Ann Thompson

1869 –

Clara Ann Thompson, a poet, teacher, and civil rights advocate, was born on January 22, 1869, in Rossmoyne, Ohio. The middle-born daughter of formerly enslaved parents, John Henry and Clara Jane, Thompson was educated in the arts and prepared for a teaching career.

In 1908, Thompson self-published her first collection of poems, Songs from the Wayside, using her family’s printing press, and dedicated the book to her siblings Garland and Priscilla Jane. After gaining popularity with her performance poem “What Mean This Bleating of the Sheep?” in 1921, she copyrighted and printed it as an eight-page pamphlet. Thompson’s second collection, A Garland of Poems, was published in 1926 by Christopher Publishing House. Her work was also anthologized, notably in An Anthology of Verse by American Negroes (Trinity College Press, 1924), edited by Newman Ivey White and Walter Clinton Jackson, and later reprinted by Moore Publishing Company in 1969. While much of her early work focused on race, Thompson shifted her thematic interest to religion with her second book, having further developed her faith. Many of her poems were written using Black vernacular English, otherwise known as dialect poetry.

In addition to her writing, Thompson was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and her local church, venues where she also often served as a public speaker. She spent most of her life in Rossmoyne, living with her siblings Priscilla Jane and Aaron Belford, both of whom were also poets. Thompson traveled occasionally to teach or read. 

Clara Ann Thompson, who was the last survivor among her siblings, died on March 18, 1949, in Rossmoyne, and is buried alongside her family but has no known gravestone.