A Family History Remembered
December 07, 2015

—By Priscilla Giles

James Martin Thompson, c.1880s
James Martin Thompson, c.1880s

Ordinary people make up the majority of any city and the Thompson-Mack families are just that. Their distinction is that they can trace the family to the North Shore in the day when Black people were pioneering with whites.

The family story begins with the kidnapping of James Martin Thompson from the Buffalo, New York area when he was about seven years old by two white “drummers” (traveling salesmen) pretending to need help opening a turnpike gate. They took him to Guelph, Ontario, Canada where he lived until he was an adult. He married Edith Alice Lipscomb (Lepscomb) daughter of Julia, a run-away slave from Kentucky. Their first daughter, Ora, was born there in 1879.

Smiths owned a grocery store in Wilmette

After Julia died, Edith and James along with Edith’s sister, Ellen and her husband John Smith moved to the United States. The Thompsons first lived in Lake Forest, Illinois where a second daughter, Minnie, was born in 1882. Later they moved to Wilmette, Illinois where the Smiths owned and operated a grocery/candy store with the help of the Thompsons. The store operated until 1925 when Ellen died. The Thompsons moved to Evanston where their last children, Jessie and Wilbur were born in 1885 and 1891 respectively in the family home at 2455 Prairie Ave. Today, the home is now the site of an apartment building just north of Haven School.

The children attended the Crandon Elementary School later called the Central Street School. It was a small one-room school building that stood at Steward and Central Street. The family held membership at Ebenezer A. M. E. Church, where Minnie and Jessie were bonnet sisters until they relocated to Detroit, Michigan where Jessie’s husband, the Rev. Benjamin Brooks, pastored until he died. Their great neice, Helen Thomas and niece Constance Bell are still members there.

Ora Thompson, the oldest child, married William Howard Mack. They had four children; a girl, Mabel, twins Everett and Paul Dunbar, and William Howard Mack Jr. Paul married Georgie Gilbert and they had four children; Roger, Diane, Paul and Helen. Helen, who with her children and grandchildren still live in Evanston.

Minnie Thompson Williams had three children, twins, who died in infancy and Alice, who died young. Jessie Maud and her husband had no children.

Howard Jr., a member on the Umbrarian Glee Club and bass horn player, was a postal worker until 1969. He married the former Hilda Gordon of Glencoe, Illinois. They had two children Marjorie and Gordon, who retired after a long career as a director of American Humanities Program with the YMCA and is now a university professor. Gordon married the former Kay Bell of another old Evanston family and had four children none of whom live in Evanston today.

2455 Prairie Ave, Evanston, c,1900s
2455 Prairie Ave, Evanston, c,1900s

Wilbur Thompson and Bertha Jones were married in 1915 by the Rev. I. A. Thomas of Second Baptist Church. It was a garden wedding at his parent’s house at 2455 Prairie in Evanston. They first lived on Central Street, a block west of Green Bay Road but later moved to 2115 Forestview Road next door to Bertha’s sister Carrie and brother-in-law Isaiah and children. Wilbur and Bertha had five children; Wilbur and Millard who died in childhood, Edith, Marjorie, and Constance. They lived in Wilmette attending school there. Marjorie started kindergarten in the Wilmette Public Library. She later attended Lincolnwood, Willard, Foster, and Haven Schools in Evanston.

A small Black community developed in early Evanston in which families like the Thompsons, Suttons, Collins, Frazier’s and Logans homes stood. The Sutton’s house was moved to 2317 Foster Street while other homes on Bauer’s Place were bulldozed as if to erase the very existence of their former neighbors. It is now the site of a Christian Science Church. Other Black-Americans living in North Evanston on Park Place and Isabella were forced to move to the westside of Evanston the new place for the growing Black population. Wilbur and friends built their new home at 2225 Foster Street where other homes were moved from North Evanston when it was being “gentrified”.

Marjorie now lives in Chicago where she married Errill Sanders and remains ever willing to add another memory for a new chapter in the history of the Thomspon-Mack history. Her oldest daughter and her sister Connie, continue to live in Evanston.

The grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of run-away slaves, kidnapped free blacks and former slaves were blessed by God and have a rich legacy to impart to their children and generations to come. They are ordinary people who wish to share a history that is a part of the North Shores and of Evanston.


Notes: Article first appeared in the original printed Shorefront Journal, Spring 2000, Vol 1 No. 4

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