Manchester Magazine Fall 2017 - Page 44

MU| A r c h i v e s Frances Smith ’39 Thomas ‘Aunt Fran’ was a friend of the civil rights movement C oretta Scott King’s children called her “Aunt Fran” and found comfort in her care after their father’s murder. She also was the reason that Jean Childs ’54 Young and her two older sisters, Cora Childs ’51 Moore and Norma Childs ’48 de Paur, ventured from segregated Alabama to earn their degrees at Manchester. In her 81 years on Earth, Frances Smith ’39 Thomas was many things to many people. But to nearly everyone, she was an inspiration. Born in Lima, Ohio, in 1917, Frances grew up in Columbia City, Ind., where she excelled in instrumental music and won a national award for playing the trumpet. Though music would bring her great joy in life, Frances found her calling as a peace and civil rights activist at Manchester. Her mentor was longtime professor and dean Andrew Cordier, who later helped chart the United Nations. Cordier’s “prescription for Fran was to make a difference in a person’s life,” then-President Parker Marden told mourners at Fran’s memorial service in Petersime Chapel in 1999. “When I look at the work of Fran Thomas from the College’s perspective, I must marvel at how much our expressed mission today draws from her witness for peace and justice.” Celebrating Fran’s life, added Marden, “reminds us of the power of teachers and mentors, how lives were changed because someone touched another.” As a Manchester student, Fran played in the band and orchestra, worked on the Aurora and Oak Leaves staffs, and was active in speech, debate and the International Relations Club. The summer of her junior year, she met Cecil Thomas, a Quaker, at an American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) work camp in California. They shared a vision, fell in love and were married by Cordier in Richmond, Ind., in 1941. As newlyweds, the Thomases turned down a more comfortable teaching offer and headed to a small African-American school in Marion, Ala. At Lincoln High School, Cecil taught social studies, physical education and coached the basketball team, while Fran worked as the principal’s secretary and taught instrumental music. Among her music students were Coretta Scott, future wife of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., and Cora and Norma Childs, older sisters of Jean Childs, the future wife of Andrew Young, one of King’s closest friends. Fran and Cecil were role models and mentors for Lincoln students who scarcely could imagine a life beyond Jim Crow. “Fran Thomas made it possible for them to realize their potential in a world that simply was not that understanding of possibility,” said Marden. At Lincoln, Fran’s influence led all three Childs sisters to study at her alma mater, Manchester. The Scott sisters – Coretta and Edythe – headed to another liberal arts institution – Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. To help outfit Coretta for college, Fran collected clothing from the Quaker clothing bank. Coretta would eventually wear one of those outfits – a light blue suit – on her first date with Martin Luther King Jr. while she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music and he was a doctoral student at Boston University. A rchives 44 |