Mrs. Althea Thomas is certainly small in stature.
She enters Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church quietly and unassumingly, not causing any attention to flow in her direction. She heads straightaway to her bench, perched in the choir stand, and artfully arranges her belongings she has brought inside the church.
Then, she turns to her prized instrument, gently lifts its cover and begins striking a few chords. Her comfort and poise are evident on this organ bench, in the choir stand, at this moment at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.
Members of the choir take their places and await their cue from her just minutes before the 10 a.m. services begin.
This Sunday, April 29, isn’t your ordinary Sunday. An appreciation ceremony is hosted for the church’s leader, Pastor Cromwell Handy, who leads the historic Montgomery church that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led during the civil rights era. It was King’s first and only pastorate.
More visitors than usual are in town and in church services the Sunday after the Equal Justice Initiative unveiled a museum and National Lynching Memorial.
And although appreciative of the honor his church members bestow up him, Handy is ever mindful of the faithful service and legacy of his church member, Althea Thomas. King hired Thomas more than 60 years ago.
“She is a gift to our local congregation,” Handy said. “Certainly Dr. King hired her because he recognized her as a talented organist and today we get to enjoy her gift thanks to her years of dedicated service. It’s truly a lesson for us all.”
Her presence is not only heard in a major way in this Montgomery congregation, it’s also felt every Sunday as she skillfully leads worship services alongside members of the church’s choir.
Thomas has passion for what she does and that passion drives her dedication and service each week.
When asked about retirement, Thomas smiles and says she wouldn’t dare dream of retirement at 84 years young – there are too many songs to lead at church; too many delightful melodies she still hears; and too many young, musically inclined students she looks forward to training.
The organ is only one outlet for Thomas.
She plays a number of musical instruments, including the piano and drums. The former beauty queen is also an artist, and has a number of original paintings and drawings she has crafted.