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Willis N. Hackney Library

Crossing the Tracks: An Oral History of East and West Wilson, North Carolina

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin

Louis S. Thomas III

On June 5, 2014, we conducted an interview with Louis S. Thomas III at the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse of African American History in Wilson, North Carolina, as part of the East Wilson Oral History Project.  Thomas was born in 1953 and raised in the East Wilson neighborhood.  His family has been in Wilson for many generations.  His great-grandfather worked for Gold Publishing, which published the Wilson Daily Times.  His grandfather, Louis Thomas, Sr., was a local carpenter, who helped to build the current building that houses the St. John AME church on Nash Street.  His grandmother, Lillie June, was a cosmetologist.  Over the years, members of Thomas’s family have gone into the same fields, while others have pursued careers in medicine and religion.  Thomas said that many members of his extended family went to college to study their trade, and that they all had the same opportunities.

Thomas first went to school at St. Alphonsus Catholic School, and later went to Samuel Vick Elementary School.  His high school years were spent at Charles H. Darden.  However, in his senior year, he was part of the first senior class from Darden to go to Ralph Fike upon court-ordered integration.  He stated that there were only minor problems at the school that year, and that his transition to a formerly all-white school was pretty seamless.  He had cultivated friendships across the tracks years earlier with some of the white students at Fike, so the transition was not that difficult for him.

After graduating from Fike in 1971, Thomas went into the U.S. Army, where he was a radio operator and a draftsman.  He spent his years in the Army in Germany and in Key West, Florida.  While in Florida he met his first wife, and they were married in Dallas, Texas, her home.  They later moved to Wilson, where they both attended Atlantic Christian College.  He studied commercial and graphic art while at Atlantic Christian.  He eventually moved to Dallas, where he spent the next seventeen years.

Thomas is known locally as a community artist, and he has worked in production on several movie sets, including the film Love Field, which was partially filmed in Wilson in the early 1990s.  He spends much of his time working with various community organizations, including S.A.Y. (Save A Youth), the Reid Street Community Center, and the Wilson Arts Council.

Growing up in Wilson, Thomas said that he never had any experiences with prejudice or injustice as an individual.  He was taught to be respectful to his elders and to others.  He embodies a very deep Christian faith, which he says allows him to bear no injustices toward anyone.  He said that everyone needs to work together to have some kind of equality, and to show others kindness.  He also said that he has many problems with the current city hall in Wilson, and that the politicians are the barrier to progress for many people in Wilson, including the residents of East Wilson, who have been forgotten over the years, as integration, along with drugs and crime, have transformed the once vibrant East Wilson community into a dilapidated and poor neighborhood.