Thomas Covington Dent, usually known as Tom Dent, was an author, a playwright, a poet, an essayist, a civil rights activist, and an oral historian. He was a leading member of a group of black writers who during the 1950s merged artistic expression with explorations of black identity.
Dent was born on March 20, 1932 in New Orleans, La. He was the eldest son of Dr. Albert Dent, a President of Dillard University and Ernestine Jessie Covington Dent, a former concert pianist.
Dent began his writing career as an undergraduate at Morehouse College where he wrote for and later edited the campus newspaper the Maroon Tiger. In 1952, he graduated from that college earning a B.A. in Political Science. He did graduate work at Syracuse University before serving a two-year stint in the U.S. Army. By 1961, he was back in New York working for a Black weekly newspaper called the New York Age and serving as press liaison for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a position he was appointed to by NAACP attorney (and later Supreme Court Justice) Thurgood Marshall.
While in New York, Dent’s literary talents and cultural activism fused to give his work a strong cultural identity found in the briefly published issues of Umbra magazine which Dent helped found and edit.
In 1965, Dent returned to New Orleans and helped found the Free Southern Theater (FST), a collective of artists, thinkers and activists fighting racism and segregation through drama productions. During his time at FST, he wrote “Ritual Murder”, perhaps his best-known play, which examines black-on-black crime. He was a mentor to several young writers and influenced many whose works he edited or reviewed.
Dent produced collections of poetry and essays, first Magnolia Street in 1976 followed by Blue Lights and River Songs in 1982. He was a fervent oral historian and collected interviews about the Civil Rights Movement and jazz in New Orleans. Thomas Dent died on June 6, 1998, he died of a heart attack.