The Boneyard

Willie Effie Thomas
The First Lady of Evansville's Civil Rights Movement

The Evansville Boneyard - September, 2006

Willie Effie Thomas, a Tyler, Texas native, moved to Evansville in 1941 to begin a teaching career that would last 36 years. She started teaching at Lincoln School, then an all-black school, and retired from Tekoppel School in 1977.

In 1949, Mrs. Thomas, began a radio program, sponsored by the NAACP, that provided experiences for youth and adults and help prepare them for a career in the media.

In the 1950s, her activism took a more visible form as she led stand-ins and sit-ins in Evansville theaters, hotels and restaurants. For her race, she worked to give access to Mesker Park, provide equal access to lodging at the YWCA, break housing barriers, and to secure jobs from local companies.

With the exception of a Ralph Bunch march in New York, Mrs. Thomas would never participate in the civil disobediences of the Martin Luther King era, explaining she preferred “conference table solutions.”

She organized the NAACP Youth Council, the Alpha Kappa Alpha at the University of Evansville and the local National Council of Negro Women and had activities in the Evansville Teachers Association, Evansville Association of College Women, Community Action Program, and the Head Start Program.

Her long list of awards include the NAACP awards for outstanding achievement in the field of Human Rights.

Today, the Evanvsville Human Relations Commission honors her with the Effie Thomas Development Award – Awarded to an individual who has successfully implemented diversity education and communication in an organization, business or the community.

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