Eugenia B. Thomas, dedicated community activist and civil rights icon, passed away August 17 at the age of 90.
Thomas, who was born on November 24, 1924, in Atlanta Georgia, came to Miami in 1929 where she was adopted by the Bell family- Mr. Bell was a horticulturist and a prominent Deacon in Dade County.
Attending Booker T. Washington High School, Thomas graduated as the class valedictorian in 1940, continuing to achieve Magna Cum Laude after pursuing a degree from Florida Memorial University in 1945. Thomas later graduated from Biscayne Development Executives and Fordham School of Public Speaking.
Married in 1953 to the late Judge Lawson E. Thomas, the first black judge in Florida since reconstruction, Eugenia Thomas worked alongside her husband as a pioneer in Miami’s African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement. The family was instrumental in many efforts such as equalizing salaries for black and white teachers and engineering compromise between protestors and county government over the lack of blacks serving on local juries.
Aside from the couple’s achievements, Thomas worked as a Dade County administrator, and later a legal secretary for Metropolitan Dade County Government office for 26 years. During that period, Thomas assisted Gwendolyn Cherry in opening the first Dade County offices of the Legal Services Department, assuming the role of Manger. Thomas continued her service as the Director of Program Planning and Development for the Concentrated Employment Program. Later, she became the Manpower Center Administrator with the Department of Human Resources, and Manpower Placement Officer for the Department of Justice Assistance in 1981.
In 1982 Thomas was promoted to Special Project Administrator in the Department of Justice Assistance, and continued as Criminal Justice Program Director in 1986.
Based on Thomas’ dedicated activism throughout her career, she received 30 honors and awards . In 1988 she was elected as the first black Florida Parent Teacher’s Association President, serving as its Director until 2002. In 2001 the Eugenia B. Thomas K-8 Center in the City of Doral, was established as an honor to Thomas.
John Thomas, Director of Legislative Policies for the Florida League of Cities in Tallahassee, created the Lawson E. and Eugenia B. Thomas Advocacy Fund, as a tribute to his parents, to continue the family’s tradition of giving, civic engagement and community advocacy.
“It’s certainly our history, and it needs to be back in place. History can’t be moved, and it can’t be eradicated,” Said Thomas in reference to 1945 protests over the right to use county owned bathing beaches at Virginia Key Beach Park.
Services for Thomas will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, August 21, at New Covenant Presbyterian Church. Funeral service is 10:00 a.m.,Saturday, August 22. at St. Paul A.M.E Church. In lieu of flowers, send donations to Florida Parent Teacher’s Association.