Taylor Thomas

Thomas, Taylor

Taylor Thomas was born on October 5, 1911, in the former Burnham Hospital in Champaign, Illinois. He was the only child of Woodward and Alice T. Thomas. He was raised in Champaign and entered first grade as the only African American student in his school. After getting his education through the Champaign schools, graduating from Champaign High School in 1929. Following graduation, he entered Tennessee College, where he majored in History and English.

After graduating from college in 1935, Taylor started waiting tables and found other odd jobs. Growing tired of the situation, he moved to Indianapolis where he found a government job, working for the Farm Security Administration from 1937-1940. From 1940-1944, tuberculosis kept him bedfast most of the time. Following recovery, he married Mary Grace Jordan and became employed as a supervisor of the Unit Personnel Service Records Section at Chanute Air Force Base.

In 1945, he became the first director of the Douglass Center, a position he upheld until 1948. There, he started a kindergarten and coached athletic teams that were so good he was offered a teaching job at Jackson, an all-African American school in Danville. He began teaching the upper grades there in 1948, and served in this position until 1956. Taylor held in such high regard that he was nominated for the Champaign City Council in 1947. In addition to teaching, he also coached all of the sports team, specifically football, basketball, and track. During his time as coach, his football team won all their games for six years. He was also Vice President of the Education Association in 1954, but was stopped from becoming President due to his skin color. During this time, he also earned a M.A. in Education in 1951 and an advanced certificate in Educational Administration in 1955, both from the University of Illinois.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Thomas was invited to the Conference on Children and Youth at the White House in Washington, D.C. In 1961, the Rosemary Yearbook from the Urbana High School was dedicated to him. Mr. Thomas became the first African American teacher employed in the Urbana school system in 1956, teaching history and sociology in the junior and senior high schools.

Mr. Thomas was elected President of the Urbana Teachers Association in 1959.  In 1958, he became a full-time teacher in the senior high school. He was appointed Assistant Principal of Urbana High School in 1968, where he was the first African American administrator. In 1970, he was elected Secretary of the Illinois High School Dean of Students Association and he was given Life Membership in the Illinois PTSA. In 1972, he became the first African American Assistant Superintendent for Student Services, a post he held until his retirement in 1977. In 1977, he was made an Honorary Commissioner of the Champaign Park District.

Taylor Thomas continued to be active in civic affairs after his retirement, working with organizations such as: the Youth Allocation Committee of the United Fund, the Family Service Administrative Committee, the Wesley Foundation Child Development Personnel Committee, the Urban League, Don Moyers Boys' Club, and NAACP. Taylor Thomas was recognized for his outstanding citizenship and public service in 1980, when he was the recipient of the Urbana Exchange Club Book of Golden Deeds Award. He was also a member of the Bahai faith, serving as chairman of the original group of seven that organized the church in Champaign in 1950.

Taylor Thomas passed away in 1988. A Taylor Thomas Subdivision exists in North Champaign in his honor.