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date: 29 September 2020

Thomas, Jesse O.

Abstract and Keywords

Jesse O. Thomas (1883–1972) was one of the founders of the Atlanta University School of Social Work. As Urban League field secretary for the southern states he brought to attention the shortage of trained black social workers.

Keywords: Urban League, Black professionals, industrial education, Robert Cloutman Dexter

Jesse O. Thomas was one of the founders of the Atlanta University School of Social Work. Born in McComb, Mississippi, Thomas studied at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, the New York School, and the Chicago School of Research. Before joining the Urban League in 1919 as field secretary for the southern states, he held leadership positions in industrial education. In 1928 he served on the Mississippi Flood Relief Committee.

During his term as Urban League field secretary, in Atlanta, Thomas substituted for the national executive secretary, Eugene Kinckle Jones, at the 1920 National Conference of Social Work in New Orleans. It was at this meeting that he called attention to the shortage of trained black social workers—a call that brought recognition of the need for a school to educate Black professionals. With the help of Robert Cloutman Dexter, Thomas subsequently organized a group that led to the founding in 1920 of the Atlanta University School of Social Services (later the School of Social Work). Details of these organizing efforts appear in Thomas's autobiography My Story in Black and White (1967). See also Black Heritage in Social Welfare, 1860–1930 (1978), by E. L. Ross.