Private William Thomas was the first African American and possible the first Alexandrian to die from Alexandria, Virginia during World War I. In death, he was remembered not as an American Negro Veteran but as one of the first Alexandrian Veterans 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
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!
Update to Private William Thomas’ story can be read in the Alexandria, Virginia Gazette Newspaper at http://connectionarchives.com/PDF/2019/090419/Alexandria.pdf.