Oral history with Thelma Lomax

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Oral history with Thelma Lomax


Early Life, Community Involvement, Segregation, First Baptist Church, Urban Renewal, First Lady of College Park, Maryland Basketball


An oral history interview conducted with Thelma Lomax during Lakeland Heritage Weekend 2007.


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Portia D. Barker


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Thelma Lomax


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In this oral history, former first lady of College Park Thelma Lomax discusses her community involvement with Lakeland from the early 1950s to the present. Thelma Lipsey Lomax married into the Lakeland community in 1953. Her husband, Dervey Lomax, was a Lakeland native, city councilmen and the first African American mayor of College Park. During this interview Mrs. Lomax touches on her life and experiences in the community. Early life family and community life, segregation, urban renewal and even Maryland basketball are all points of discussion during this interview, Mrs. Lomax’s connection and commitment to her family, church and community are thoroughly described.

Early Life:

Thelma Lipsey was born November 13th in Emporia, Virginia to Percy and Carrie Lipsey. It is not clearly stated why or when Thelma left Virginia for Maryland and this could be a point of further investigation. The migratory patterns of African Americans often follow a common theme of access to better opportunities, so it would be interesting to know what factors contributed to Thelma leaving rural Virginia. Mrs. Lomax is cautious with the information she gives to the interviewer. When asked when her parents were born her reluctance is evident. She states, “That I don’t think you need to know, cause I don’t know.” When asked about the names and birthplaces of her maternal and paternal grandparents Mrs. Lomax maintains her silence on the subject, stating “Skip that please. I don’t think they need to know that. I don’t know why they want to know that…. and you don’t either.” Mrs. Lomax does not believe her life outside of Lakeland should be a point of interest to the interviewer, particularly because neither she or her family have roots in the Lakeland community. The interviewer promptly moves to the next point of inquiry, Thelma’s ties to the Lakeland community.

Family and Community Life:

As previously mentioned, Thelma is not a native of Lakeland. Her connection to the community comes through her marriage to perhaps the most well known Lakelander, former College Park mayor Dervey Lomax. Thelma met Dervey in an unspecified work setting in the during 1950s. She and Dervey married in 1953 and moved to Lakeland where they had two children, Gregory and Elston. Thelma reflects on some of the happiest times in her life while in Lakeland, stating “When the kids where born those were happy times. Through the years we did a lot of traveling. We had a trailer and we went across country, and had long vacations and good times. Saw a LOT. We visited, the kids and, I visit Panama on summer… no one Christmas.. .”
While in Lakeland Thelma was a member of the Civic Service Association and the Lakeland elementary PTA. As a member of the First Baptist Church she served faithfully on several committees including the scholarship committee in which she played an influential part in scholarship distribution for local youth. Mrs. Lomax acknowledges her involvement with the Scholarship Fund at her church as one of her greatest and proudest accomplishments. “The scholarships really have my heart because I love to see the young people progress and go on to better things.” It seems as though education is a big platform for Thelma and this is made further apparent by her fight with the local school board to desegregate the elementary schools during the early part of the 1960s.
As first lady of College Pak Thelma was able travel, with her husband, to various parts of the country to attend conferences and civic meetings. Thelma notes that there was “not very much” to being First Lady of College Park because it is not a big city, but she does acknowledge that it does carry with it a particular social position within the community. In addition to this benefit, another “perk” of being First Lady is that she got to see and hear first hand how local government operated. Both while her husband served as a councilmen and as mayor, Mrs. Lomax was privy to the process of legislation and public works projects, a point that is of particular interest later in the interview.


Together with the local NAACP chapter, the Lomax’s fought the local and state school board to petition the desegregation of a predominantly white elementary school in order for their two boys to have a better education. Mrs. Lomax touches on the totality of segregation, mentioning, when asked what was the worst part of segregation, she replies “all of it.” During the desegregation process Gregory, their eldest son had a private tutor during the majority of the first grade year, perhaps alluding to the prominent middle class status of Lakelanders during this period. She notes, “we knew the black schools didn’t have all the materials that they had in the white schools. We were the first to get that (desegregation) going.” After this initial act of desegregation many Lakeland children followed suit, attending the local white school instead of the all black Lakeland Elementary School.

Urban Renewal

The process of Urban Renewal in the Lakeland community is an issue of great debate even now. The renewal process is highlighted in Thelma’s interview. “Oh and a happy time was when the Urban Renewal project passed… to me it was….. It took a long time for the project to be completed but it took a long time to pass it too, to get the money. And once they got the money, inflation had eaten up the money, took ten years and inflation had eaten up the money so the project could not go the full course for which they had planned because of people stalling that didn’t want it to happen, Federal Government and all that kind of good stuff. But I was happy, because my husband was on the council at that time and he was having a hard time with PEOPLE. With the council, plus people in the neighborhood and the federal government, so when it passed I said ‘Hallelujah.”
Later in the interview Thelma states that she didn’t mind when metro came through. “We lived on the other side of the tracks then but we moved to this side of the tracks and that didn’t bother me, it was for the improvement of the neighborhood.” Thelma’s statements concerning the state and federal mandated changes to the local landscape greatly reflects her position as a former First Lady and an Lakeland community member. Her interview sheds new light on how we think about the process of urban renewal. Thelma’s knowledge of the process in which the urban renewal project went through illustrates the complex relationship between community organizations, local and state governments in the reshaping of the cultural and physical landscapes.

Maryland Basketball

Thelma acknowledges the long history that she and her husband had with the Maryland Basketball team during the 1980s. She notes that they not only traveled to see them play all their rival opponents, they also had the coach and basketball team over to the house. “We entertained all those guys. We were very close to them and I enjoyed that.” This illustrates the connection that many within the Lakeland community had and continue to have with the University of Maryland

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