Dr. George B. Thomas,’52 paves the way for stellar education in underserved communities

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Growing up in Greenwood, S.C. with a mailing address of 96 South Carolina, Dr. George B. Thomas, ‘52 knew that receiving a good education would equip him with the necessary skills needed to thrive in any endeavor. The son of an enterprising father and a mother, who was a school teacher, provided him a first-hand glimpse into a world that would someday become his very own. 

At the early age of nine years old, Thomas’ father passed leaving his mom to manage the farm; unfortunately, his mother did not understand how to operate a farm and it was subsequently lost due to delinquent taxes. His family was left as poor share croppers.

Although the struggle of raising a family without a father was tough, his mother encouraged him and his siblings to pursue a good education.

“My mom would always tell me that education is the equalizer,” said Thomas.

The youngest of 12 children, an ambitious Thomas followed his mother’s advice and dedicated all of his time to excelling in school. At the age of 15 years old, he enrolled into Voorhees High School and Voorhees Junior College (now Voorhees College) and graduated in 1947.

In 1949, Thomas received an associate’s degree in business administration from Voorhees Junior College. Receiving a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from Voorhees High School and Voorhees Junior College sparked his interest to pursue a career in education. The advice that his mom planted in him as a young boy never escaped him.

That same year, he enrolled into South Carolina State College (now SC State University) with an unwavering desire to lead others. While at SC State University, Thomas pursued business administration and teacher education. He excelled in academics.

“South Carolina State College was one of the few institutions that offered an opportunity for African-Americans to receive a degree. It had a respected and highly acclaimed reputation for educating African-Americans,” said Thomas.

Longing to become an educator, Thomas received great mentorship from several professors on the university’s campus.

“Professors at historically black colleges and universities really took a genuine interest in their students and encouraged them to do the best that they could. Professors such as Mr. Brown, former chair of the business department; Mrs. Helen Sheffield, a chemistry professor who highly motivated students; Dr. Rackley, a psychology professor; and Dr. Louie Roach were very instrumental in my success at the university,” he continued.

Of those professors, Roach made a profound impact in Thomas’ life. Roach, a biology professor, told Thomas that hard work and dedication amount to success.

“Roach was my mentor. He had a very unique way of inspiring the young students to be the best they could be,” said Thomas. “He was a motivator, educator and, most of all, he lead by example.”
Through Roach’s mentorship, Thomas followed in his footsteps, becoming a member of the Xi Psi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. in 1949. He was also a member of the SC State Student Government Association and the senior choir at the institution.

Following graduation in 1952, Thomas joined the Air Force, where he served for four years. He was later transferred to Washington, DC to the Office of Special Investigation. Thomas was discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1956 and was retained as a civilian administrative employee. In the fall of 1957, he was employed as a business education teacher and a part-time librarian at Carver High School, in Rockville, Md. At that time, Carver High School was the only all black high school in the Montgomery County Public School System (MCPSS).

Thomas later transferred to Northwood High School in 1960 after the large suburban school system was desegregated. In his second year at Northwood, he was promoted to chairman of the business education department. In 1965, he was promoted to the MCPSS central office as a curriculum specialist, where he wrote curriculum guides and authored teacher training guides for the entire school system. Thomas catapulted his way to the top, aiding in several administrative roles including an area superintendent of 40 schools in the MCPSS.  

Board Chairman Matthew J. Perry (left) administers the oath of office to Dr. George B. Thomas as Mrs. Thomas looks on.
Having attained much success in the MCPSS, Thomas was recruited to serve as the president at Voorhees College.  From 1978 to 1983, Thomas served as president of the historically black college in Denmark, S.C.

During his tenure at the university, he had a vision for academic excellence, which he and his administration achieved by developing and executing a ten-point strategy for advancing the college.

The plan focused on accountability, performance evaluation, management improvements, financial stability, enrollment expansion and retention.

It also focused on fundraising and a commitment to the college community by establishing programs that would promote a positive image and increase pride in the institution. Thomas knew that in order to move the college in the right direction, the alumni had to financially support the institution. His final strategy for the college was restoring its reputation.

According to Thomas, his greatest achievements at Voorhees College was increasing the college’s endowment and reaffirming its accreditation. 

“Through my efforts and with the assistance from Dr. Allen Voorhees, a descendent of Ralph Voorhees, the first major benefactor of the institution, we developed a fundraising plan that utilized gifts from Dr. Voorhees, who gave more than a million dollars,” he said. “We also formulated a plan with the United Negro College Fund and built the endowment from $25,000 to more than $ 7 million dollars.”

He continued, “Reaffirming Voorhees College’s accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was an achievement that I will never forget.”

At the conclusion of his four-year administration, Thomas returned to Montgomery County to develop educational centers for area youth.

Dr. George B. Thomas

The George B. Thomas Learning Academy Saturday School supports 12 cluster centers in the Montgomery County School system.
With the assistance of members from a local Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., chapter he founded a tutoring and mentoring program for students in grades one through 12 in 1986.

Now 28 years later, the George B. Thomas Learning Academy Saturday School supports 12 cluster centers, receiving students from more than 175 schools in the Montgomery County School system.

The academy offers rigorous academic enhancement to more than 3,000 students annually in subjects such as reading, mathematics, language arts and science.

“We believe that anyone who is aspiring to be successful must have a good education. Education must begin in the early grades and continue through high school, this is what we aim to do.”

A 50-year education veteran, Thomas fulfilled his life mission for educating minority students, particularly African-Americans and Latinos and providing evidence of closing the achievement gap that exists between majority students.

To get a full view of this academic enhancement program, visit the academy’s website at www.saturdayschool.org.