DES MOINES, Iowa — On Thursday, Iowa lost a civil rights icon when Willie Stevenson Glanton passed away at the age of 95. Now, those who knew her best are speaking out about a woman they say was beloved by all.
“A lot of us don’t realize the shoulders that we stand on. Mrs. Glanton and her husband are shoulders a lot of us stood on. We wouldn’t be where we were today if it wasn’t for their support,” said Representative Ako Abdul-Samad.
“There was no major event, politically, socially, or civil rights that she was not involved in. None. She was the first lady of the City of Des Moines,” said Attorney David Brown.
A civil rights leader, a brilliant lawyer, an ambassador for the City of Des Moines; Willie Glanton was a lot of things.
“If you had an opening of a new hospital wing, she was there, if you had major leaders here, she was there. She was in soup kitchens, she was there, I mean she was bigger than life,” said Brown.
Brown says Glanton was just as incredible inside the courtroom as she was outside of it.
“It was straight, fair, honest, brilliant, and really she was very persuasive. Painfully we all knew how persuasive she could be,” said Brown.
At a time of racial and gender inequality across the country, the woman who would become the first African American legislator had to be those things.
“You have others holding you at a different standard, you know, not only Caucasians, but African Americans and society is holding you at a standard not only because you’re African American, but also because you’re a woman,” said Abdul-Samad.
Abdul-Samad said as an up-and-coming activist, Glanton was a rock in his life.
“She called me her son, which was awesome. That was like a privilege for me, and I’m sure for others. Even when I made mistakes she was encouraging. Let me be clear, she let me know I made a mistake, she wasn’t a pushover, she wasn’t the [type] to sugarcoat things, she let me know; but I think that discipline and that gentleness in saying, ‘okay, you could have did this this way, this could have been better, or you shouldn’t have did this,’ you know, is what made her the dynamic individual she was,” said Abdul-Samad.
An individual described as warm, passionate, and humble.
“She was a hero to me and every other lawyer I know, she was a hero to all of us,” said Brown.
Among her accomplishments, Willie Glanton was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame, and she was a recipient of the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. She also was invited to the White House by the Obama Administration.