Finding your voice, fighting for equality: The story of Dinnie Thompson

Finding your voice, fighting for equality: The story of Dinnie Thompson

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - This is a simple story. You may never see this story made into a high budget movie, but historians believe that doesn’t take away from its importance and the information that is shared.

The history of America’s enslaved people is not an easy one to document. Oral traditions are some of the oldest and only ways information was passed down through the years.

“Vital statistics for the time for enslaved people only give numbers and ages they don’t list names,” Jennifer Cole, Director of Collections Access at The Filson Historical Society explained. “It’s gender, age and value.”

Information for Dinnie Thompson and enslaved women born in Kentucky can almost be followed from her birth.

Slave records for Dinnie’s mother, father, grandmother and some of her brothers and sisters can be found in the records of Judge John Speed, one of the oldest and most prominent families in Louisville, Kentucky.

Dinnie’s mother had 11 or 12 children.

“All of them but Dinnie and her brother Henry had been taken away and sold,” exclaimed Cole.

By the end of her mother’s life, only Dinnie was still by her side.

“I think it’s just heartbreaking to think that this woman had eleven or twelve children, but she only knew where one of them was by the rime she was nearing her death,” Cole said solemnly.

Eventually with the Emancipation Proclamation, the family was freed. When Dinnie got her freedom, she also found her voice.

“Dinnie tells her own story,” explained Cole. “Dinnie tells the story of them being whipped. She talks about her mother trying to flee several times, being captured and put on the block at the Arterburn slave pens.”

Francis Ingram, a social worker in Louisville and the Head Resident of the Neighborhood House settlement from 1905 to 1939 painstakingly took down the history of Dinnie Thompson.

“She’s a woman whose grown up, lived and grown up in bondage and become free but is still living under the burden of a lack of equality and recognizes and is willing to say things out loud about that,” Cole shared of Dinnie’s life.

Thompson was also willing to work to end that inequality. She joined a group of African American women who begin to work to support their own community.

“She was a member of the Sisters of the Mysterious Ten,” exclaimed Cole. “They worked to provide medical care for members of the group. They provided funeral services for members of the group.”

Sisters of the Mysterious Ten was the sister organization to the Black fraternal order United Brothers of Friendship. Both groups began here in Louisville supporting the needs of African Americans and both groups grew.

“In the late 1800s they had 250,000 throughout the country” Cole shared. “It was the second largest fraternal order in the country.”

Dinnie Thompson’s story is being shared right now as part of the “Women at Work” exhibit that was supposed to open last year but did not due to the pandemic. It is a salute and celebration of the women’s suffrage centennial.

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