Thomas School

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This article is about the school in East Birmingham. For the former school in East Thomas, see Gorgas Elementary School. For the former school at Thomas Furnace, see Thomas Furnace School.
Thomas School
Thomas School.jpg
Active 1880s-
School type Public
District Birmingham City Schools
Grades 1-8
Location 3420 2nd Avenue North, (map)

The Thomas School was an early school, built for black children, in the Birmingham Public Schools system.

The first Thomas School, serving 1,000 black students in East Birmingham, burned in the mid-1890s. Although the Board of Education collected an insurance claim for the loss of the building, it made no plans to replace the school, instead renting space in the basement of a church. Frequent flooding caused classes to be dismissed for days at a time.

After continued urging by the A. M. Brown, Ulysses Mason and other leaders in the black community; and by Mayor George Ward, who had overseen a $300,000 bond issue for school improvements, plans for a new Thomas School were prepared.

The new brick building, located on Block 467 at 3420 2nd Avenue North in North Avondale, was designed by African-American architect Wallace Rayfield. It was constructed in 1910. Though it had no electric lights, it did have coal-fueled boilers for steam heating, and was considered exceptional among schools for African Americans for its quality of design and equipment. A 1912 report in The Survey related that the teachers and students took "much pride in keeping it free from marks of use."

A 1922 addition to the school was designed by architect Benjie Price.

For a while after it no longer served students, the building was used as a special services counseling center for the Board of Education. It was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair with parts of the roof collapsing.

In 2002 the Birmingham City Council unanimously passed a resolution to approve a forty year lease of the Thomas School property to the Jimmie Hale Mission, which proposed to stabilize and refurbish the property as the new home of its Shepura Men's Center. At the end of the the $1/year lease, the mission would have the option to purchase the property from the city for $100. (Ordinance No. 02-131). The mission broke ground on the improvements in 2005 and held a grand opening in 2007.



  • McKelway, A. J. (January 6, 1912) "Conservation of Childhood." The Survey Special issue "Birmingham: Smelting Iron Ore and Civics." Vol. 27, No. 14, pp. 1515-26 - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
  • "The New Avondale Building to have 18 Classrooms and will Occupy Most Commanding School Site in Birmingham Officials Claim." (October 9, 1921) The Birmingham News - rpt. in Browne, Catherine Greene (2007) History of Avondale. Birmingham: A. H. Cather Publishing Co.
  • LaMonte, Edward S. (1974) George B. Ward: Birmingham's Urban Statesman. Birmingham: Birmingham Public Library/Oxmoor Press