Bea Thompson graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with three goals: return home to Charlotte, work at WBTV and become a news reporter. Within three years, she had not only accomplished those goals but was making history as the first Black woman to anchor television news in Charlotte.
Thompson joined WBTV in 1977 as a reporter when there were strong ties between the university and the TV station. "BTV and Chapel Hill had an umbilical cord – about 70 percent of us were Chapel Hill graduates," she said. "If you were good enough, you got the opportunity, and you'd try to prove yourself."
And she did. By 1980, she was anchoring the Good Morning show with Jim Patterson and Bob Taylor, as well as the midday program, Top O' the Day. But higher visibility didn't make the job easier, she said.
"As a Black woman, you had to work harder and jump higher than everyone else," she said. "We were always taught that when you go somewhere, you look your best because you represent not only your family, but your race. I was raised to do my best. You can't take my brain from me – I'll beat you with my knowledge."
When she first started at WBTV, Thompson said she was called to the news director's office and assumed she was getting fired. Instead, she was encouraged to increase her on-camera time in her stories.
"Stations all across the country were trying to increase their minority presence," Thompson said. "I didn't sound Black to them, so they needed to see me."
Thompson left WBTV in 1985 and broke another barrier, becoming the first Black corporate spokesperson for Duke Power. Two years later, she returned to TV news, spending 11 years with WCNC. She became news and public affairs director for CBS Radio stations WBAV 101.9 FM and WPEG/Power 98 FM in 2000. She retired in 2016 and became a community affairs specialist for InnerVision, a behavioral health care nonprofit, before fully retiring in 2017.
Thompson said she's had an interesting journey over the last 40 years, and her career has inspired others to follow in her footsteps. "I've been told by young people that they admired what I did," she said. "I looked like them, so they felt they could do it. But more than anything else, I wanted them to understand you can do anything you want to do. Make up your mind and be about the business of doing it."