yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

Linden Family Proves 'American' Way Pays:
 Family of 12 Goes from Slavery to Degrees, Honors in 3 Generations

Gordon H. Turner

The following article was found among clippings collected by the late Elsie Johnson of Lexington, Tennessee. The article probably appeared in the Nashville Tennessean and dates while Joseph Stalin was still living (1953 or earlier).

Staff Photo by Gorden H. Turner

LINDEN, Tenn. - Shown on the front porch of their home here are the George T. Thomases Sr., seated, and their 10 children, all of whom were at home together for the first time recently. The children are, from left, Reesley, who lives here with the parents; Fred, Washington, D.C.; Mrs. William (Maggie) Spratten, Cleveland, Ohio; Miss Florence Addyelyne Thomas, Athens, Tenn.; Mrs. Esther Thomas Telford, Kansas City, Kan.; Mrs. Jesse (Lillie Mae) Boyd. Ashland. Ky.; Frank E. Thomas, Nashville; Miss Juanita Marguerite Thomas, Lexington, Tenn; George T. Thomas Jr.; and Joseph Andrew Thomas, both of Nashville.

LINDEN, Tenn. The George Thomas family, including the parents and 10 children, comprise one of the most remarkable groups in Tennessee. Some folks say that goes for the whole U.S.A.

All who know anything about it attribute their high standing and attainments today to sacrifice, hard work, and perseverance - a glamorous and true American success epic. They are highly inspected by both white and colored people throughout this section.

The parents are George and Florence Brashear Thomas. All their ancestors from their grandparents back were slaves and their own parents, born near the close of the War Between the States, missed slavery by a matter of months.

Have No High School

The Negro population of little Perry county has never been much over 300. Naturally, there have never been but two or three little schools - sometimes one - for colored children. The county has never had a high school for Negroes and until a few weeks ago had never owned a lot of land, nor does it yet own a building, devoted to the training of its Negroes. For years the Linden colored school has been taught in the little one-room Negro Methodist church house.

Naturally then, "Uncle George"' and "Aunt Florence" can't boast of their own scant education, paid for in six-weeks subscription schools by their hard-earned money. But they got an appreciation of the American way of life and vowed if they ever had children they would show them the value of work and help them through high schools and colleges to much wider fields of service.

Same Home Since 1895

The couple chose to remain here where they had made their home as youngsters. Married on Dec. 7, 1895, they moved at once into the little house which he had ready, and here they have lived ever since.

While George built houses and trained men of both races to do expert carpentry, Florence kept house and washed clothes both for themselves and others. Better still, they reared 10 children sent them to grade school here and then saw them off one by one to work their way usually as top honor students through high school and college.

Now all the children are on their own in five states and in high standing. At a family reunion here recently all were together for the first time in their lives at which time this writer was a guest in the hospitable little home to hear the remarkable stories of the parents and their five sons and five daughters.

Head Nurse

Mrs. Esther Thomas Telford, oldest child, worked her way through high school in Princeton, and graduated with high honors in nursing at Meharry college in Nashville, and for 10 years now, has been head medical nurse at the big municipal hospital in Kansas City. Fred, "the baby," attended Washington Junior and Pearl high in Nashville and then after serving 4 years in the army, came hack to graduate last spring from Howard university in Washington, D.C. In defense work there now, he plans to make a dentist later.

George T. Jr., after high school graduation also in Princeton, took his degree at A&I college in Nashville. After long war service he located as a building contractor in Nashville where his wife, the former Odessa Watkins, also an A&I graduate, teaches in the city schools. Mrs. Jesse (Lillie Thomas) Boyd worked her way through College Hill high school in Columbia and after graduation at A&I, taught in Perry and Decatur counties and in Murray, Ky. For the past four years her husband has been pastor of the St. James AME church in Ashland, Ky., where she has charge of youth work and serves as head of the Negro ministers' wives alliance of the state.

Workshop Representative

Mrs. Juanita M. Thomas also finished College Hill high and A&I college, and has done graduate work at Kansas state college. A teacher in the Henderson county (Tenn.) schools now, she represented that system for the past two weeks in the state workshop for teachers, held in Nashville. Mrs. Maggie Thomas Spratten was graduated from Pearl high in Nashville in three years and after attending A&I taught in this county. She lives with her family now in Cleveland, Ohio, where her husband, also an A&I graduate, is a well-known cabinet-maker.

Frank lettered in football and basketball at Pearl high. Then after service in the army, he went through A&I and is now assistant supervisor of a Nashville trade school. His wife, the former Ethel Banks, also an A&I alumnae, teaches in the city schools there. Miss Florence A. Thomas was an honor student through both Pearl high and A&I and now teaches at Athens. Tenn., where she is recognized as a leader of Negro youth.

Held Many Honors

Blind from early childhood, Ressley went all the way through the state blind school. He now lives with his parents here and is a magazine salesman, and a lecturer and musician of considerable fame. Joseph A. Thomas taught in Hardin, Wayne, Decatur, Lawrence, Wilson, Maury, and Perry counties to pay his way through Burt high in Clarksville and A&J college and Fisk university in Nashville.

For the past five years he has been a principal in the Davidson county schools. Recently he may have been the nation's most honored Negro when con currently he was president of the Tennessee and vice president of the American teachers associations, president of the state vocational teachers group and executive committeeman for the Middle Tennessee teachers association - all within his own race.

On off days Joe is an employee at the state capitol. His wife, the former Alice Waters, also a graduate of A&I and Fisk, is a Nashville teacher. It was their 14-year-old daughter, Alice, who made national headlines recently when she passed special entrance examinations for the University of Chicago and will enter there in the fall.

So have gone the Thomas family of this little Linden, Tenn., U.S.A. - from slavery to college training and positions of honor and responsibility in three short generations.

And the best news they had here at their recent reunion was that their little home county had just bought a lot here and that work would start soon on a pretty $30,000 4-room brick veneer building, its first very own for Negroes in its 129-year history.

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