In Iowa history, trailblazers are aplenty. For an example of both extraordinary Black Iowans and women, one doesn’t have to look very hard to find Willie Stevenson Glanton.
Born in Arkansas, Glanton moved to Iowa in 1951 right after her wedding to Luther T. Glanton Jr. who would later become one of Iowa’s first Black judges.
Glaton was the second Black, female lawyer to be admitted to the Iowa Bar Association, which she did in 1953. Two years later, she started practicing law in Des Moines. Shortly after, she became the first Black woman assistant county attorney for Polk County.
Glanton’s political life began when she came to Des Moines and promptly joined the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Club, the Democratic Women’s Club, the John F. Kennedy Club, and the Roosevelt Club. She was an active member in all and did grassroots campaigning work for the Democratic Party and regularly attended meetings.
As a result, she had the social and political relationships to run for office and never doubted the party’s support.
Glanton was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1964. She was the first Black woman elected to the state legislature. She served one term and resigned so she could accept her appointment as counsel for the federal Small Business Administration, where she stayed until her retirement.
Glanton’s key issue was fair housing. Her general mission was “freeing up people,” which she’d pursued since she was a girl and decided to become a lawyer.
Another remarkable year for Glanton was 1986. She was elected president of the Iowa Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. She was the first Black woman to hold that position. She also represented the association in a tour of China, Finland, and the Soviet Union. Lastly, Galton was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.
As a lawyer, Glanton focused on civil rights and women’s rights. She advocated for equal opportunity with the US Small Business Administration.
Throughout her life, Glanton held leadership positions on other boards and commissions and was active in church and community organizations and political groups.
Glanton died in Des Moines on July 6, 2017, at 95 years old.
by Nikoel Hytrek
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