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US academic pays tribute to trailblazing Kittitian-American former NY Supreme Court justice

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William-Thompson

By CMCDecember 30, 2018

William C. Thompson, Sr.

(CMC) – A Caribbean American academic in New York has paid tribute to trailblazing Caribbean-American former New York Supreme Court justice and legislator William C. Thompson, Sr., who died on Christmas Eve.

He was 94.

Ron Howell, an associate professor in journalism at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and author, said Thompson, whose late parents migrated from St. Kitts and Nevis, lived the American dream.

“The death of William C. Thompson Sr. was not just the passing of Brooklyn’s first black state senator, nor of a powerful attorney who stepped onto the highest rungs of the New York state judicial system, nor of the father of one of the city’s most prominent politicians, former city comptroller and current City University chair Bill Thompson,” said Howell, who also traces his roots to St. Kitts and Nevis.

“Judge Thompson’s death was the final farewell for a significant chapter in the history of black politics in New York City,” he added, disclosing that Thompson was a protégé of Bertram Baker, Howell’s maternal grandfather, who, in 1948, became the first black elected to political office in Brooklyn’s history, representing Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York State Assembly.

Howell said that, in the 1950s and ’60s, black attorneys in Brooklyn began seeking powerful jobs as elected officials, as assistant prosecutors and as judges, and that Baker opened those doors of political access.

A World War II veteran, who served in the segregated US military of that era, Howell said Thompson “came out of what is properly called the ‘Greatest Generation’”.

But he said Thompson’s “specialness goes beyond that old uniform”.

Howell said neither Baker nor Thompson boasted about being part of “the tiny wave of Caribbean immigrants who came to America in the early 20th century, and put a notable mark on New York City political history”.

He said Baker, born in 1898, migrated in 1915 from Nevis, part of the twin-island federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Howell said Caribbean immigrants back then “knew it was not politically advantageous to call attention to their national roots.

“Some native-born American Blacks referred to them as ‘monkey-chasers’ or as ‘black Jews,’” Howell said. “Relatively small in number then, the Caribbean newcomers were ambitious and known for a desire to own property. Most notably, they became pioneers in the attainment of Black political power in New York, especially in Harlem and in Black Brooklyn.

“I salute William C. Thompson,” he continued. “We will never see the likes of him and his cohort again. But they will live in us.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also tweeted: “William Thompson, Sr. spent a lifetime of service to New York. He was a trailblazer, and our thoughts are with his family,” Cuomo said.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said he joined “all Brooklynites” in mourning the passing of Thompson, “a man who I have been honored to call a friend and confidant for so many years”.

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