William Hannibal Thomas, b. 1843
William Hannibal Thomas was born in Ohio in 1843, descended from free blacks from Virginia and Ohio. He attended schools in Ohio and Michigan and was the first black student admitted to Westerville, Ohio's Otterbein University. White students at the university greeted him with hospitality and hostility and Thomas left the university in 1860, midway through his first term. In 1861 Thomas was denied entrance to the Union army because of his race and worked as a servant in a white regiment. Later in the Civil War, though, he fought with distinction in the 5th U.S. Colored Infantry, suffering a severe wound that led to the amputation of his right arm. In the postwar years Thomas led a varied but checkered career as a preacher, teacher, journalist, trial justice, militia officer, and politician. Over many years he published articles in the Christian Recorder and the A.M.E. Church Review, publications of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Thomas later founded his own journal, The Negro, a publication that failed after issuing only two numbers. Thomas achieved notoriety and infamy with the publication of his most famous work, The American Negro, in 1901. His intemperate and viciously hostile critique of African Americans, especially women, drew the ire of such black intellectuals as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois and Charles W. Chesnutt. Following the publication of The American Negro, Thomas spent the remainder of his life in obscurity. He drifted and worked as a janitor in Columbus, Ohio until his death in 1935.
Work Consulted: Smith, John David, Black Judas: William Hannibal Thomas and The American Negro, Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 2000.
John David Smith