Alexandria, Virginia World War I Veteran – The First to Fall: Remembering Private William Thomas

Private William Thomas

Private William Thomas
Alexandria Gazette, Friday, December 27, 1918

Private William Thomas was the first to die from Alexandria, Virginia during World War I. In death, he was remembered not as an American Negro Veteran but as the first Alexandrian Veteran to die in combat in France.

Mr. William Thomas was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1886. In 1910, William and his wife, Mary Coleman Thomas lived at 710 Gibbon Street. He worked for a fertilizer company in Alexandria. Mr. Thomas enlisted in the United States Army in 1917; he was shipped off to France in 1918. By late 1918, Private Thomas was died; he was killed in action in France.

Unfortunately, little is known about Private Thomas’ parents, but his wife, Mary Coleman Thomas on the other hand has more family history to share. In the 1910 census, William and Mary stated that they had been married for six years. Also they had one child that had died.

Mary died on April 25, 1934. She was 51-years-old; she was listed as a widow to William Thomas. Mary’s parents were John Coleman and Laura Lyles. Mary and her parents were born in Alexandria, Virginia. Based on her death certificate, her last address prior to her death was 614 St. Asaph Street. Mary’s brother, Henry Coleman was the informant on her death certificate and his address was the same as Mary.

Henry Coleman married Grace Massie. Henry died prior to 1970 and Grace died on May 5, 1971. She was a retired government worker. In researching Private William Thomas, I found that Mr. James E. Henson is the nephew of Grace Massie Coleman. Mr. Henson lives in Alexandria.

Private William Thomas would have been forgotten in history if it was not for the

1956 – Mr. Nelson Greene, Sr with the Boy’s Scouts

American Legion. In July 1931, the “First Alexandria Negro American Legion” was named American Legion William Thomas Post No. 129. The National American Legion headquarters’ records show the permanent official charter date for Post No. 129 was October 1932. The first officers of this Post No. 129 voted to name their Post after Private William Thomas. The officers were L.O. Broadneck (Commander); Sherman Majors (First Vice Commander); James McCallant (Second Vice Commander); Richard Hollinger (Adjutant); George Wilson (Finance Officer); William Dixon (Chaplain); and William Tibbs (Sergeant in Arms).

Today, William Thomas Post No. 129 has a low membership. At one time, their members exceed over 200. Mr. Cordell Credit is the Adjutant/historian for this Post.

For Private William Thomas, the African Americans of Alexandria never forgot about your supreme sacrifice – you will always be remembered as the American Legion William Thomas Post No. 129. May you rest in peace!

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Star Cab: Alexandria, Virginia First African American Cab Company

The picture in the blog banner is a picture of three men who owned their

1940s-1950s Star Cab Staff

cabs and drove for “Star Cab Company” during the 1940s and 1950s. These men were Mr. Ike Marshall, Mr. Clarence McKenney, Sr., and Mr. Norman Reynolds, Sr; this picture was taken in the 400 block of South Columbus Street. Some other drivers who drove under the Star Cab Company were Mr. John Galloway, Mr. Samuel Taylor, Jr., and Mr. William Charity.

Mr. William Charity’s cab number was 22. Mr. Charity started driving for Star Cab in the early

Mr. William Charity

Mr. William Charity


1940s part-time. He had a full-time job in the Federal Government. He soon realized that he made more money driving the cab than he did on his full-time job. He quit his government job and started driving full-time for Star Cab. Mr. Charity has fond memories of driving; “the drivers back then dressed in uniforms and we were well respected by the people who knew us”, Mr. Charity stated in a home visit that I made with Mrs. Wilson’s great-great niece, Ms. Shenise Foster to his home. Mr. Charity was able to buy his home on the salary he made from the cab business as well as provide a good living for his wife and children. Today, Mr. Charity is the last man standing who once drove for “Star Cab.” Mr. Charity is 101-years-old and he has been a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church for over 90-years.

Who was this extra-ordinary African American business minded woman who started the “Star Cab Company?”

Star Cab was owned by an African American female named, Madeline Morton Wilson who had a remarkable sense for business. She was born in Orange, Virginia around 1903. She and her brother, Clarence Morton migrated to Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, D.C., when they were young. Mrs. Wilson appeared to have stayed in Alexandria, Virginia with an aunt, Elmira Morton Matthews who migrated earlier to Alexandria. In 1926 at the age of 23, Madeline Morton married Wadsworth Wilson who was 44-years-old. Prior to her marriage, she was living at 408 Oronoco Street, in Alexandria, VA; but, she reported on her marriage license that she was born in Orange, Virginia. Prior to Mr. Wadsworth Wilson’s marriage, he was living at 617 St. Asaph Street; he reported on his marriage license that he was born in Washington, DC. They were married by Father Joseph J. Kelly at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

In Mrs. Wilson’s short life, she was a woman that was on the move making independent business deals. She had her own business as a hairdresser. She purchased her family home at 700 North Patrick Street.  Mrs. Wilson, her husband, son, and several years her young niece lived in the two story home were her hair dressing and barber shop were operated in the front portion of the home. She independently purchased several other properties in Alexandria. Many of her business transactions were recorded only in her name. One of her biggest business’ deals took place in 1940, when she started the “Star Cab Company.”

John “Buddy” Wilson second person from the right

Although her son, John “Buddy” Wilson ran the day to day operations, Mrs. Wilson was the owner. In 1945, she obtained business partners and incorporated the Cab Company into “Star Cab Association.” Her partners were:

Mrs. Pearl M. Willis – 909 Princess Street, Alexandria, Virginia
Mr. John Galloway, Jr – 233 North West Street, Alexandria, Virginia
Mr. Samuel Taylor, Jr – 318 North Alfred Street, Alexandria, Virginia

In 1950, Mrs. Wilson had passed away. In the Alexandria Gazette Newspaper, her obituary stated that she had a long illness. She died at Freedman Hospital in Washington, DC. Mrs. Wilson was survived by her husband, Wadsworth Wilson, her son, John (Buddy) Wilson, her brother, Clarence Morton of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her aunt, Elmira Mayetta Morton Matthews of Massachusetts.

Mrs. Madeline Morton Wilson was the business genius in her family. After her death, three-years later in 1953 her husband, Wadsworth Wilson died. He was survived by his son, John (Buddy) Wilson, brother, John Wilson, and many nieces, and nephews. Shortly after the death of Madeline and Wadsworth, their son lost everything. He could not maintain all the property that his mother acquired. John “Buddy” Wilson died as a lonely man without his relatives near him.

The niece of Mrs. Madeline Morton Wilson lives in Cape May, New Jersey. She and her granddaughter, Shenise are currently researching their family history.

I want to thank Mrs. Carolyn Phillips McCrae and her nephew, Norman Reynolds, Jr., for providing the pictures of “Star Cab”. Norman, Jr., is the son of Norman Reynolds, Sr., who drove for Star Cab. Also, Ms. Shenise Foster, great-great niece of Mrs. Madeline Morton Wilson, provided three pictures including the one of Mr. Charity.

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In 2015, we celebrated the 150th year anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Now, we are in the 150th year anniversary dates of the “Reconstruction Era”. The Reconstruction Era refers to the period in the United States history that immediately was instituted after the Civil War. This Era was a rebuilding of the Nation and a period of time that the federal government set conditions to include the rebellious Southern states back into the Union. But this also was a period of time for all African Americans to participate in their own destiny and to claim their rightful place among other citizens.

For the first time, all African Americans are recorded in Federal, State, and County records with first and last names. Since individual States and their people heard that the Civil War had ended at different times, one must note that certain Reconstruction records might not have started in those States until after 1865. Many scholars agree that the “Reconstruction Era” was from 1865 – 1877.

In celebrating the “Reconstruction Era” on this blog site, I will be posting many blogs that will have genealogy value. The blogs include research on African Americans in Alexandria during the Reconstruction Era.

Please visit my business web site at for my upcoming lectures and workshops that will include “Reconstruction Era” type lectures. Thanks!

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West End of Alexandria, VA

Clara Shorts Adams

Prior to the 1920s, the West End of Alexandria, Virginia was at one time or another considered to be in Fairfax, VA or in Arlington, VA. By the 1920s, West End was considered Alexandria, VA. In celebrating Alexandria’s history, this blog is on the West End of Alexandria.

A tribute to Clara Shorts Adams and her husband, Robert Adams for contributing quarter-acre land to the Falls Church School District in Fairfax County for an African American School in 1898. The one room school building was built on the land that the Adams gave to the Fairfax School system.

Clara Shorts and Robert Adams married January 2, 1886 in Fairfax County, VA. Clara was the daughter of Harriet Stewart McKnight Shorts and Burr Shorts. Her husband’s parents were George and Ann (Annie) Adams. It is believed that Clara’s parents were enslaved prior to 1865, but Clara’s husband, Robert’s parents, were freed people of color prior to 1865 living in the City of Alexandria.

This small act of kindness by Clara and Robert is still remembered a hundred and seventeen years later by their descendants in the West End of Alexandria.

Fort Ward (part of the West End) area of Alexandria, Virginia has a rich history of early African Americans owning their land and building their community as part of Alexandria today. Although the one room school is no longer there, the contribution made by Clara and Robert is still remembered in the Fort Ward and Seminary communities. In celebration of the end of the Civil War, I salute the Adams’ family for their commitment to education!

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