Cleopatra Davenport Thompson served Mississippi as a talented educator and advocate for civil rights and the advancement of women. Thompson taught at many of the state’s schools, including Walthall County Training School, Okolona Industrial School, Rust College, Alcorn State University, Tougaloo College, and Jackson State University, and served as a visiting professor of psychology and education at the University of Liberia in the 1960s.
Cleopatra Davenport was born on 17 February 1912 in Egypt, Mississippi, one of ten children of teacher Alonzo Davenport and Lizzie Blanchard Davenport. She received her early education in local schools before marrying H. McFarland Thompson, a professor of mathematics at Jackson State College and president of the Mississippi Teachers Association.
Thompson graduated from Alcorn State University in 1932 and received a master’s degree from Atlanta University in 1936. She later earned a doctorate in education from Cornell University. Her dissertation, completed in June 1960, concerned the effectiveness of the Jackson State education program. Following 306 graduates from 1944 to 1953, she examined how they perceived the effectiveness of their college training in preparing them for professional life as well as how their training prepared them to contribute to the communities in which they taught. Thompson pursued postgraduate studies at the University of Chicago and at Iowa State University.
From 1946 until 1977 Thompson held the position of professor of education at Jackson State. Thompson also served as the director of the Jackson College Extension Center, a program designed to provide two years of college-level classes for Meridian-area elementary and high school teachers that gave Thompson information regarding the condition of schools throughout the state. During Thompson’s tenure, Jackson State produced one-third of the principals and half of the teachers at Mississippi’s black schools. Thompson became dean of the School of Education in 1973, bolstering curriculum offerings and expanding the school’s focus beyond preparing teachers for the state’s rural schools. In 1974 Thompson’s restructuring and improvement of the School of Education won accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the first division of Jackson State to achieve this milestone.
Thompson served a range of civic organizations, including the YWCA, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, and the Girl Scouts. She was also a deacon at Jackson’s Farish Street Baptist Church. In 1969 she was a founding member of the Alumni Association of Public Colleges, a political action arm of the alumni associations of Alcorn State, Jackson State, and Mississippi Valley State. Thompson served on the Teacher Education Liaison Committee of the Southern Regional Education Board and as a delegate to the 1960 White House Conference on Children and Youth. She helped organize the 1977 International Women’s Year Conference in Jackson, leading a workshop on international affairs. She also worked with the Hinds County Project Head Start and served as director of the Community Welfare and Health Center. She died on 5 May 1992.
Thompson received many honors, and a residence hall at Alcorn State University bears her name. In addition, the Cleopatra D. Thompson Curriculum Center at Jackson State University provides multimedia resources for elementary and secondary educators.
- John A. Peoples, Personalities of the South (1969)
- John A. Peoples, To Survive and Thrive: The Quest for a True University (1995)
- Josephine McCann Posey, Against Great Odds: The History of Alcorn State University (1994)
- Lelia G. Rhodes, Jackson State University: The First Hundred Years, 1877–1977 (1979)
- Marjorie Julian Spruill, “Awake, Aware, and Deeply Polarized: Mississippi Women and the International Women’s Year Conference of 1977,” Cora Norman Lecture, Mississippi Humanities Council (2006)
- Cleopatra D. Thompson, The History of the Mississippi Teachers Association (1973)