Born on January 28, 1948 in Bolton, Mississippi, Bennie G. Thompson earned a B.A. from Tougaloo College in 1968 and an M.S. from Mississippi State University in 1972. After completing his education, he took a job as a schoolteacher.
Thompson launched his political career in 1969 when he was elected to Bolton's board of aldermen, where he served for four years. From 1973-79 he was the mayor of Bolton, and from 1980-93 he sat on the Hinds County, Mississippi board of supervisors.
In 1993 Thompson, a Democrat, was voted into the U.S. House of Representatives—representing Mississippi's 2nd Congressional District—in a special election following the resignation of Rep. Mike Espy; he has been reelected to this seat every two years since then. Thompson is a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. In 2005 he joined the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.
When Republican Congressman Peter King in 2012 sought to convene the fifth in his series of hearings on the dangers of Muslim radicalization, Thompson insisted that Islamic terrorism was no longer something to be feared, given that Osama bin Laden, Anwar Al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan had been killed. “Despite a changing world which requires us to look forward, this [King's] committee seems to want to look back,” said Thompson.
Viewing America as a nation rife with intractable white racism, Thompson is a strong supporter of affirmative action as a means of “trying to level the playing field” in the academic and business worlds.
When interviewed on an April 27, 2014 "New Nation of Islam" webcast, Thompson identified racism as the major underlying cause of Republican opposition to President Barack Obama's political and social agendas. “I never saw George Bush treated like this,” said Thompson. “I never saw Bill Clinton treated like this with such disrespect. That [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell would have the audacity to tell the president of the United States … that, 'I don't care what you come up with, we're going to be against it.' Now if that's not a racist statement I don't know what is.”
On the same webcast, Thompson accused Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant of opposing Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) “just because a black man created it.” He added that President George W. Bush's Medicare prescription drug plan had generated far less opposition than Obamacare because “when a black man comes up with an idea [for healthcare] there's something wrong with it. Again, it's race creeping into the picture.” And Thompson likewise attributed the recent increase in anti-government sentiment among many Americans to racism: “Now all of a sudden, government is the worst thing in the world since a black man became president.”
Thompson generated additional controversy when he disparaged conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, an African American, as an “Uncle Tom.” “When I look at decisions he's been part of on that Court,” said the Mississippi Democrat, “its almost to the point to say this man [Thomas] doesn't even like black people. He doesn't like being black.” Thompson cited, in particular, Justice Thomas's opposition to affirmative action as an example of his anti-black bias.
When CNN reporter Dana Bash subsequently asked Rep. Thompson to clarify his “Uncle Tom” reference, the Democrat said that Thomas's rulings had been “adverse” to the black community. Miss Bash then noted that the term “Uncle Tom” could be viewed as racist and inappropriate if used by a white person, to which Thompson responded, “But I’m black.” “That makes it OK?” asked Bash. To this, Thompson replied:
“I mean, you’re asking me the question, and I’m giving you a response. The people that I represent, for the most part, have a real issue with those decisions—voter ID, affirmative action, Affordable Care Act—all those issues are very important, and for someone in the court who’s African American and not sensitive to that is a real problem.”
For an overview of Thompson's voting record on a variety of key issues, click here.