Louise Alone Thompson Patterson (1901-1999), B.A. '23, cum Laude

Louise PattersonLouise Alone Thompson was born in Chicago, Illinois, but her family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when she was eight years old. Her early years were filled with a variety of experiences in East and West coast cities. When Louise Thompson, her mother, and stepfather settled in Oakland for the second time she had to face the great influenza pandemic head on. She became ill at the age of seventeen, fighting hard to recover and complete her senior year of High School. In June 1919 she graduated from Oakland High. Having fully recovered, she set her sights on enrolling at the University of California where she embraced an intense workload in the College of Commerce. She achieved much academic success in a short period of time and surpassed the required credits for what was then a “junior certificate.” At only nineteen years of age, she had pulled within fifty credits of being eligible for graduation.[1] During this time, Louise teamed up with Vivian Osborne to head the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. She would also be listed in the 1923 Blue and Gold Yearbook in the Honor Societies section as being a member of Sigma Delta Pi (Spanish).

Inspired by a lecture given by W.E.B Dubois at UC Berkeley (Wheeler Hall) in March of 1923, her passion for social justice grew. After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, she taught at Hampton Institute in Virginia. She lost her job after supporting a student strike against the racial policies set by the university administration. Her life, now set on a path of social activism would put her in close quarters with legends of the Harlem Renaissance, such as Paul Robeson, Zora Neale Hurston, and her close friend Langston Hughes. In 2012, the California Alumni Association Magazine wrote a piece on her life and described her expert ability to formulate and execute plans of action as she embarked on a film project called Black and White. The article highlights recruitment efforts for the project spearheaded by Louise Thompson calling out Hollywood’s pervasive racist stereotypes with the appeal “Hollywood producers continue to manufacture sentimental and banal pictures, and particularly cling to traditional types in portraying the Negro.”[2] Ultimately, the project took a group of 22 African Americans to the Soviet Union to address the struggles of African American workers in the United States. However, the film was never made. Another set of assumptions and stereotypes surfaced that were not sanctioned by the group and they returned to the U.S.

As a fierce leader and quintessential organizer, Thompson diligently worked for causes that she believed in. She married William Patterson in 1942, and together they fought against McCarthyism in the 1950s. In the 1970s, she helped organize Angela Davis’s defense fund. She died at the age of 97, leaving a record of tireless social activism and a passion for justice that never waned.

Photo from the Blue and Gold Yearbook, 1923

[1] Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice, Keith Gilyard, 2017, pp. 28, 31

[2] California Alumni Association Magazine, 2012