Iowa Civil Rights Pioneer Willie Glanton Dies

Jul 7, 2017

A pioneering figure in Iowa politics has died.

Willie Stevenson Glanton
Credit Iowa Department of Human Rights

Willie Stevenson Glanton. was the first black woman elected to the Iowa Legislature. It was in 1964, at a time when the American civil rights movement was gaining momentum. Glanton was raised in Hot Springs, Ark. During a 2011 interview with Iowa Public Radio, she recalled the influence her politically active parents had on her life.

“I guess I just grew up with the idea politics is part of your life if you’re going to make it, especially if you’re black or there is some other thing people think is an impediment, you know,” she said.

Glanton was joined in the Iowa House in 1964 by another African-American, James Jackson of Waterloo. She said it didn’t trouble her to be in such a small minority.

“You can’t worry about who’s not there," she said. "You worry about your getting there and how to get there and what it takes to get there.”          

Glanton served a single term in the Legislature. She went on to a number of other firsts – the first black attorney for the U.S. Small Business Administration, the first black assistant Polk County attorney, and the first black member of the Des Moines City Council. Her husband, Luther Glanton, was Iowa’s first black judge.

Willie Glanton died Thursday morning in Des Moines. She was 95 years old.