The Rev. Thomas A. Wright, former president of Alachua County NAACP and prominent African American activist in the Gainesville community, died Tuesday night at the age of 94.
After serving in the Army during WWII and attaining a ministry degree at Howard University School of Religion, he became an advocate for education and integration.
“We are saddened because a giant in our community has fallen,” said Evelyn Foxx, current president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP.
Foxx said the loss is very personal and was disturbed upon hearing the news Tuesday. She said she tossed and turned most of the night as she thought of the many times she went to lunch with Wright, who was her mentor and confidant.
“He had this big voice, and when he spoke, you had no other choice but to listen,” Foxx said. “He had a quiet demeanor where he would listen, but, oh boy, when he opened his mouth, he captured everybody’s attention because he had so much to say.”
When it comes to Wright’s contribution to the NAACP and Alachua County, Foxx said there was no way she could begin to think about or measure all the contributions Wright made to the community.
His most recent contribution, in February 2014, was when Wright donated $50,000 to Santa Fe College to create an endowment fund to help students who live in low-income, multi-family housing, Foxx said.
“He donated $50,000 of his own money – his own dollars,” Foxx said. “He put his family’s life on the line to bring about justice and equality for African Americans.”
Jean Chalmers, former Gainesville city commissioner and member of the Alachua County NAACP during the Rev.’s presidency, worked with Wright throughout the Civil Rights Movement, she said.
“He had this compelling voice, and a gentle, strong manner, so naturally whenever we formed a little group for civil rights action, we would always look to Rev. Wright as a leader, participant or a spiritual guide,” Chalmers said.
At the time of Wright’s presidency, Chalmers and her husband, David, who went to jail with Martin Luther King Jr. during the St. Augustine civil rights marches, were two of several white members of the Alachua County NAACP, she said. However, the list of members was private and wasn’t written down anywhere because lives and jobs would be at stake, according to Chalmers.
“When we did march, (Wright) was always right out in front instructing us how to be cautious and how to be careful, and when any of us went to jail, he was always there trying to raise the money to bail us out,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers said her favorite memories of Rev. Wright were when he spoke at meetings held downstairs at the old Mt. Carmel church, where he would share the words and philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Wright leaves behind a legacy of “racial justice and vocal education and protest against injustice and racism” Chalmers said. “He was really a man of God.”
“I hope, well, in fact, I know that his legacy will live on,” Foxx said. “It will be a big shoe to fit, but we can at least try.”
The funeral will take place this Saturday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m. at Mt. Carmel Church, 2505 NE Eighth Ave.
Roberta Fiorito contributed to this report.