David William Thomas

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David William Thomas, Sr.
Mayor of Minden, Louisiana, USA
In office
1936–1940
Preceded by Henry L. Bridges
Succeeded by Floyd D. Culbertson, Jr.
Personal details
Born (1876-08-12)August 12, 1876
Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Died August 1, 1961(1961-08-01) (aged 84)
Minden, Webster Parish, Louisiana, USA
Nationality American
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Presumed divorced;

Not mentioned in his obituary

Children Gwendolyn Neitzel of Marksville in Avoyelles Parish

Sarah Fasce of Baton Rouge
Mrs. Terry Whipple of Baton Rouge
David Thomas Jr., of Des Plaines, Illinois
Seven grandchildren
Six great-grandchildren

Occupation Attorney; Journalist; Educator
Religion Baptist
(1) Of all Minden mayors, Thomas may have been the most unlikely – born in the United Kingdom, reared in Pennsylvania, a Cornell University graduate, and a journalist and educator in south Louisiana – all before he arrived in Minden.

(2) Thomas seemed hesitant to commit to a single vocation until he began his law practice in Minden, a quarter century after having earned his law degree from Louisiana State University.

(3) Thomas instituted a plan as mayor to pave all major streets within Minden.

(4) Thomas made a practice of distributing Bibles to high school graduates in the city of Minden.

David William Thomas, Sr. (August 12, 1876 – August 1, 1961), was a Welsh-American "Renaissance man", journalist, university professor and attorney who served from 1936—1940[1] as mayor of the small city of Minden, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana.[2]

Early years and education[edit]

A native of Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, he was the son of David and Sarah Thomas. The Thomases entered the United States in 1883 and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where young Thomas received his primary schooling. He was admitted to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he received an Ivy League education. After graduation from Cornell, Thomas was briefly a high school teacher and then a school principal in Lake Charles, the seat of Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana.[2]

After several years in Lake Charles, Thomas was hired as professor of Latin, Greek and journalism at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. At the time, LSU was located downtown on the site of the Louisiana State Capitol. While Thomas was a professor at LSU, several students from Minden, including future judge Harmon Caldwell Drew, were students there. Later, H. C. Drew's son, R. Harmon Drew, Sr. (1917–1995), a judge and state representative, was a pallbearer at Thomas' funeral. So was a later mayor, John T. David.[2]

Higher education and journalism[edit]

While he was on the LSU faculty, Thomas also attended law school. He graduated in 1909 with an L.L.B. degree but did not begin practicing law until much later in life. He remained in his teaching position at LSU for several more years until the early 1920s, when he became publisher of a small daily newspaper, the Baton Rouge News, forerunner to the modern Baton Rouge Advocate. He was later an editor of a weekly paper in Hammond, the principal city of Tangipahoa Parish. He left Hammond in 1923 in his 47th year to come to Minden, where he was on the staff of the new Minden Tribune, a forerunner to the Minden Press-Herald, which merged into a daily newspaper in 1966.[2]

In 1925, Thomas became professor of journalism at Louisiana Tech University (then Louisiana Polytechnic Institute) in Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish in northern Louisiana. He wrote poetry, which was published in regional and national literary anthologies. Thomas remained on the faculty at Tech for several years, including a part-time instructorship for his last years there. He returned to the Minden Tribune in 1927 before it merged with the Webster Signal to become the Signal-Tribune. Once again, he returned to higher education: professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.[2]

While in Arkansas, Thomas wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers to remain in touch with the community. He returned to Minden in 1934 and never left. Twenty-five years after he had received his law degree from LSU, Thomas opened a private practice in Minden with R.F. Langston, which endured until Langston's death.[2]

Mayoral service[edit]

Thomas ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Minden in the spring of 1934, having lost a Democratic runoff election on May 15 to former Mayor Henry L. Bridges, 624 to 366.[3] In that race, Thomas called for a reduction in municipal utility rates and for the establishment of a canning plant to assist residents in the preservation of garden foods.[4] The incumbent that year, Connell Fort, who had also preceded future Governor Robert F. Kennon as mayor prior to 1926 and who had handily unseated Bridges in 1932, was eliminated in the first primary held on April 10, 1934.[5]

On March 2, 1936, at the age of sixty, Thomas was elected to the first of two two-year terms as mayor of Minden.[6] As mayor under the former commission government, since replaced by the single-member district mayor-council format, Thomas pressed for paving all major streets. An amateur architect, Thomas designed the former Minden Community House in Victory Park,[2] but the original structure has been superseded by a more modern building.

During Thomas' second term, to which he was elected without opposition in 1938,[7] controversy arose over the sale of alcoholic beverages. The city had allowed such sales when the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in December 1933. In the fall of 1938, a local option election was held to decide whether Minden would impose prohibition at the municipal level. The city was voted dry effective January 1, 1939. The prohibition issue may have ruined Thomas politically, for he finished in third place in the 1940 primary election. The ultimate winner, attorney Floyd D. Culbertson, Jr., served through November 1942, when he resigned as mayor to enter military service during World War II.[2] Thomas unsuccessfully challenged Culbertson in the 1942 election and then ran in the 1946 Democratic primary. That year he finished a weak third, with the contest being won in a runoff on May 7 by John T. David, who defeated insurance agent Castle O. Holland (1895–1981).[8]

Thomas was not the first Minden mayor to have a background in journalism; so did W. Jasper Blackburn, who served as a Democrat from 1855 to 1856. Blackburn became a Republican during the American Civil War and served briefly in the United States House of Representatives and the Louisiana State Senate.[9]J. Frank Colbert, a former state representative who served as mayor from 1944–1946, also had newspaper experience. Connell Fort was also a newspaperman during much of his working career. Twenty-six years after Thomas left the office of mayor, still another former newspaperman, Tom Colten, became the city's first of thus far two Republican mayors.

Thomas remained active in local Democratic politics. He served as the Webster Parish attorney for the inheritance collector from 1948 until his death.[2]

In 1954, Thomas ran a weak third in the race for Minden city judge, a position vacated by the incument R. Harmon Drew, Sr. The Minden native Cecil C. Lowe defeated A. Eugene Frazier in a runoff election for the position.[10]

The grave of former Mayor David William Thomas is located near those of two other Minden mayors, John T. David and J. Frank Colbert in Minden Cemetery.

Thomas continued his law practice until his death. A Baptist, he presented Bibles to high school students upon their graduations. Services were held at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Minden, with the Reverend T. W. Leachman officiating. Thomas is interred at Minden Cemetery.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ City of Minden, List of Minden Mayors Since 1888
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j John Agan, Webster Parish historian, "Echoes of Our Past", Mayor David Thomas, Minden Press-Herald, May 22, 2008
  3. ^ "Elect H. L. Bridges Mayor of Minden," Minden Herald, May 18, 1934, p. 1
  4. ^ Minden Herald, March 16, 1934, p. 10
  5. ^ Minden Herald, April 13, 1934, p. 1
  6. ^ "David W. Thomas Elected Mayor", Minden Herald, March 3, 1936, p. 1
  7. ^ "Heavy Ballot Is Cast in Primary Election Tuesday", Minden Herald, April 8, 1938, p. 3
  8. ^ Minden Herald, May 10, 1946, p. 1
  9. ^ Profile 2007 | Minden Press-Herald | MPH story goes back more than 150 years
  10. ^ "Lowe Leads in Judge Race", Minden Herald, July 30, 1954, p. 1
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry L. Bridges
Mayor of Minden, Louisiana

David William Thomas
1936–1940

Succeeded by
Floyd D. Culbertson, Jr.