Thompson, Gladys Vernell Davis

Biography 

Gladys Vernell Davis Thompson

Gladys Vernell Davis Thompson represents three generations of Black Latter-day Saint women in the same family. Her grandmother and mother were baptized on the same day in 1906. Sixteen years later, at age thirteen, Gladys followed in their footsteps when she too became a Latter-day Saint. She remained a committed adherent to the faith for the rest of her life.

Gladys, the first daughter of Eva Sargent Davis and Abner Davis, was born in Golansville, Virginia, on 22 February 1909. At the time of her birth, Gladys’ father worked for the railroad and her parents lived with her maternal grandmother, Nellie Sargent, in rural Caroline County, Virginia.[1] In 1920, Gladys and her parents still lived with Gladys’ grandmother while her father worked as a farm laborer.[2]

 Two years later, Walter B. Waldron, a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Morgan, Utah, baptized Gladys and her oldest brother Norman on 10 May 1922.[3] Waldron confirmed Gladys on the same day.[4] None of Gladys’s six other siblings followed her and Norman into the faith.

Glady’s father abandoned the family at some point in the 1920s. He no longer lived with the family by 1930 and in 1936 Gladys’ mother Eva divorced him on grounds of desertion.[5] Eva, Gladys, and Gladys’ sister, Pauline, worked as domestic servants to make ends meet.[6] Gladys moved to Washington D.C. sometime before 1930 and began work as a servant for a white man named Hudson C. Greenewald. Her mother and sister, Paulina, as well as her aunt Novella Sargent Gibson also worked in Washington, D.C. and likely provided family support.[7]

Sometime in the 1930s Gladys met and married a man named Sylvester Thompson. Together they had one child, a son named Eugene Vinson Thompson, born on 19 August 1935 in Cedon, Caroline County, Virginia.[8] By 1940 the Thompsons had moved to live close to another Thompson family, likely Sylvester’s parents, in Woodson, Virginia, another rural town in Caroline County.[9] There Sylvester worked for the railroad and later for an electric company while Gladys worked as a homemaker. Sylvester died of a heart attack on 9 March 1976.[10] Their son, Eugene, passed away from pancreatic cancer on 3 May 1981.[11]

Gladys remained in Woodford until a short time before her death when her grandson Eugene V. Thompson, her caregiver, helped her move to a nursing home in Portsmouth. She died from organ failure and pneumonia a short while later, on 20 June 1993.[12]

Gladys remained a committed Latter-day Saint and attended the Fredricksburg, Virginia congregation, about fifteen miles from her home in Woodson. A 1962 LDS Census record listed her as a member and her cousin Virginia Wright recalled that she worked on family history and knew a lot about “blacks in the Church and how she was treated when she first joined the Church.” When she passed away, John Ballentyne, her bishop from the Fredricksburg congregation presided at her service. Her passing marked eighty seven years and three generations of the Sargent family as Latter-day Saints.[13]

By Joseph Stuart with research assistance from Kaitlin Tyler

Primary Sources

“Davis.” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1914-1935. C.R. 4 311. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

George Newel Rollison. Missionary Database. Accessed February 19, 2021.

“Mrs. Gladys V. Thompson.” Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia). 23 June 1993, C9.

“Thompson, Gladys Venell Davis." Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1950-1960, 1962. CR 4 316. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

United States. 1910 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison.

United States. 1920 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison.

United States. 1930 Census. District of Columbia, Washington, Tract 12.

United States. 1940 Census. Virginia, Caroline County, Madison.

Virginia. State Board of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificates of Death. File 76-008386. Registered number 116. Charles Sylvester Thompson, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia.

Virginia. State Board of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificates of Death. File 84-014523. Registered number 209. Eugene Vincent Thompson. Virginia State Archives. Richmond, Virginia.

Virginia. State Board of Health. Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificates of Death. File 93-024339. Registered number 116. Gladys Vernell Thompson. Virginia State Archives. Richmond, Virginia.

Walter Burdette Waldron.” Missionary Database. Accessed February 19, 2021.

Wright, Virginia K. Oral interview by Alan Cherry, 14 October 1986. Transcript. Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Oral History Project. L. Tom Perry Special Collections. Harold B. Lee Library. Brigham Young University. Provo, Utah.


[1] United States, 1910 Census, Virginia, Caroline County, Madison district.

[2] United States, 1920 Census, Virginia, Caroline County, Madison district.

[3]Walter Burdette Waldron,” Missionary Database, accessed February 19, 2021. His companion was George Newel Rollison. See “George Newel Rollison,” accessed February 19, 2021.

[4] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Southern States Mission, Virginia District, Microfilm 1995, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[5] Commonwealth of Virginia, Bureau of Vital Statistics, State Health Department, Eva L. Davis, Divorce from Abner L. Davis, Virginia Divorce Records, 1918-2014, Richmond, Virginia.

[6] United States, 1930 Census, District of Columbia, Tract 12.

[7] United States, 1930 Census, District of Columbia, Tract 12; “Gladys V. Davis,” Washington, District of Colombia, City Directory, 1937.

[8] Virginia, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File 84-014523, registered number 209, Eugene Vincent Thompson, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia.

[9] A “Charlie Thompson” family is listed above Sylvester’s family in the 1940 census. See United States, 1940 Census, Virginia, Caroline County, Madison district. Sylvester’s first name is listed as Charles on his death certificate and his father is listed as Charlie. See Virginia, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File 76-008386, registered number 116, Charles Sylvester Thompson, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia.

[10] Virginia, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File 76-008386, registered number 116, Charles Sylvester Thompson, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia.

[11] Virginia, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File 84-014523, registered number 209, Eugene Vincent Thompson, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia.

[12] “Mrs. Gladys V. Thompson,” Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia), 23 June 1993, C9. Virginia, State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificates of Death, File 93-024339, registered number 220, Gladys Vernell Thompson, Virginia State Archives, Richmond, Virginia.

[13] “Gladys Venell Davis Thompson, Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1950-1960, 1962, CR 4 316, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; Virginia K. Wright, Oral interview by Alan Cherry, 14 October 1986, transcript, 15, 18, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Oral History Project, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; “Mrs. Gladys V. Thompson,” Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia), 23 June 1993, C9..

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