GALVESTON - TO GOD BE THE GLORY
James B. Thomas
Wynn Funeral Home
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” II Timothy 4:7-8
Reverend James B. Thomas, a former Galveston City Councilman, passed on Friday, March 16, 2007, at the age of 82. Reverend Thomas was born October 20, 1924, in Galveston, Texas. The legendary Reverend Thomas was a well-respected Civil Rights warrior in the 1950's. After serving his Country in World War II from 1943-1946, he had difficulty adjusting to the second-class citizenship once he returned to the segregated south. As a result, he became a freedom fighter in 1947 and dedicated his life to improving the lives of African-Americans in Galveston.
Reverend Thomas attended Holy Rosary School, Carver Elementary and Central High School, graduating in 1943. He was not only instrumental in passing the first law to integrate the public schools in Galveston in the 1950's, but he was also committed to establishing a 'safe place' for children to play. In his neighborhood they had the Cub Scouts and Little League Baseball teams on 53rd and Avenue M.
During this time Galveston was "cosmopolitan" and education was quite good. He stated that folks from the north, who assumed his southern background was a hindrance, were often surprised at his firm command of English and knowledgeable conversations.
In 1943, he was drafted into the Navy to serve in World War II. After the war, he went to the University of Hawaii for a short while and then returned to Galveston. When he returned to Galveston, it was not quite the Galveston he had left. Well educated and articulate, he was continuously denied work. He was told that it was not his credentials that left him jobless, but instead, it was his color. Although he was a skilled electrician, he swept floors as a porter at the Electric Company. From there he worked as a laborer at the Santa Fe Railroad where his employers admired him. Nevertheless, because of his color, he was denied additional career training within the company and no opportunity for advancement. In 1949, he went to work for the U.S. Post Office, where once again his opportunities for advancement were limited by color. As a result of his entrance exams, he could be a carrier or a clerk. African-Americans were not eligible for clerk positions---only clerks were eligible for promotions. So he became a mail carrier for the United States Post Office and married Ruby Gamble. From that point on, he decided that he would fight the system that stymied possibilities for his life and the lives of his children. He learned the policies and procedures of the U.S. Postal Service and did his job extremely well. Against all odds, he received additional training in Washington, D.C., as a Vehicle Accident Inspector and was promoted. He joined the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Alliance of Postal Employees. He retired from the U.S. Post Office in May 1980.
Always a spokesman for the poor and under privileged in the City of Galveston, he was involved in all aspects of the African-American experience. In 1966, he graduated from the Baptist Institute of Theology and Christian Doctrine. He became the pastor of the Market Street Missionary Baptist Church from 1978 until his retirement in 2002. Under his leadership, Market Streets' ministry focused on encouraging people to be educated, emancipated and excellent. Its outreach efforts targeted youth and low-income families from its neighboring Cedar Terrace housing complex. Market Streets' appeal was known throughout Galveston as a church that inspired its congregants by informing them of the opportunities available for economic empowerment if they would believe and take action. In a 2003 interview, Reverend Thomas remarked, "I always help the ones who's down and out." In addition to the ministry in 1993, he instituted Operation Safe Play to provide children ages 10-19 a safe place to play basketball instead of playing into rival gang violence. On any given night visitors could go to Central Middle School and witness 200-300 children playing basketball around 11:30 p.m. Thomas once said, "if these children were not here they would probably be outside getting into trouble." His concern for children was evident in the he 1950's when he participated in the filing of a law suit against the Galveston ISD. This continued in the 1990's with the upsurge of gang violence in Galveston. James Thomas believed, "If you keep children busy, they will not get into trouble."
From 1979-1982, he was the president of the Galveston Chapter of the NAACP. During his tenure, he and former State Representative Al Edwards, played an important role in establishing Juneteenth as an official State holiday. He headed the first Juneteenth Holiday and Parade in Galveston in 1980. So admired was the work of Galveston, that in 1982, he was elected to the City Council where he served multiple terms. His last term on Council ended in1999. Reverend Thomas was Galveston's first District 1 African-American City Councilman.
During the years, he was a member of a host of civic organizations, including the City of Galveston Planning Board and Housing Authority Board. He was involved with the National League of Cities, the Texas Municipal League, the National Association of Black Elected officials, and the Galveston Chamber of Commerce. He also served on the boards of the Old Central Cultural Center, The Texas Board of Optometry (1983-1989), the Houston Recovery Institute, Galveston Tri- Ethnic Committee and the Marcus Netherly Board of Directors.
Reverend Thomas and his beloved wife, Rub Thomas of 56 years, have established a legacy of dedication to education and empowerment in the African-American community. They have five children, ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Reverend Thomas leaves a legacy of two generations who are by profession, principals, teachers, preachers, politicians and business professionals. His children and grandchildren serve in positions of inspirational influence in the lives of people across Texas. He also leaves his physical mark upon this world. On July 25, 2004, the City of Galveston and the Parks and Recreation Department named a new recreation center at Wright Cuney Park in his honor. When honored he said, "that he just wanted children to have the same opportunities he did". He continued to say, "it gave me and my family some prestige, but what I believe in is having children come here. We have got to keep the kids going".
Reverend Thomas' life exemplified one of Dr. Martin Luther King's most profound statements, and that is, "Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verbs agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of Thermo-Dynamics in Physics to serve. You only need a heat full of grace and a soul generated by Love."
Reverend leaves to cherish his life, his wife Ruby; son, James Eugene (Anita) , Dallas; grandson, James E. Thomas Jr. (Rebecca); great-grandchildren; Jasmine N.; Jacob E. and Brenna Ann Thomas; granddaughter, Caelan Hampton; son, Lawrence Benjamin (Peggy), Galveston; granddaughters, Nikki D. Thomas and Courtney T. Thomas; daughter, Jocelyn Olivia Thomas-Goins (Joe Johnson), Galveston; granddaughters, Lesha S. Thomas; Dana L. Thomas and Joangela A. Thomas; daughter, Paula Elaine Thomas (Texas City); daughter, Sharon Delores Parker (Randall), Dallas; grandson, Randall Parker III; brothers, Laurence and George Thomas , sister-in-law, Cleo Thomas (Houston); sister, Carrie Bell Clay (Elbert) and Paul Thomas (Dallas); a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and many more relatives and faithful friends. The family, in great appreciation wishes to acknowledge the Hospice Care Team, Micelle and Eric; also, Leon "Nu Nu' Pettaway, Lasonya Davis and Roberta Leyva. Thank you to Evelyn Mcneil, Virginia F. Thomas, G. Floretta Laws, Barbara Coleman, Brenda Gamble Thomas, Sherman Boyer, Joan M. Foreman and Carol Guidry and Family. The family cannot forget the faithfulness of Shirley Darnell, Billy Golston and Carol Freeman. Special thanks to all of you, the James B. Thomas Family.
Reverend Thomas' body will lie in state at Avenue L Baptist Church from 12 noon to 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 22, 2007, followed by a wake/ musical celebration from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
The Homegoing celebration will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, March 23, 2007, at First Baptist Church, 822-23rd Street, in Galveston. Reverend Al Edwards will officiate. Reverend Thomas will be laid to rest at Lakeview Cemetery in Galveston.
Florals, memorials and other expressions of sympathy may be sent to: Wynn Funeral Home, 602-32nd Street, Galveston, TX 77550. (409) 621-1677.