My Contribution: I knew Harrisburg’s Black community inside and out as a census enumerator of the Eighth Ward and a trusted undertaker. I was politically and socially active in the community and involved in several social organizations. I co-founded the Masonic Home in Linglestown.
My Legacy: I served an important role in Harrisburg during my time. As an undertaker, I gave numerous Black citizens of Harris- burg the final rites that they deserved in a society divided by the color line, and saw their burial in Lincoln Cemetery and other Harrisburg cemeteries. I also accurately recorded the names, addresses, and important data of my Harrisburg neighbors, strengthening the legislative power of my enumeration district through the U.S. census. My work on the census remains important today, even for the Commonwealth Monument Project, as historians use my information to better understand historic Harrisburg.
About Me: “The praises of Frederick Douglass in the past and of Booker T. Washington in the present have been sounded again and oft for what they have done in improving human conditions. They deserve all the laudations awarded to them. But do not forget that there are men in every community, less known to fame than they, who, unostensiously, are laboring in the same vineyard, and doing the work the Master has given them to do. Harrisburg has had such workers and one of the numbers is Joseph L. Thomas.”
— Harrisburg Telegraph, May 20, 1911.
Full Name: Joseph L. Thomas
Birth Date: December 16, 1852
Death Date: March 3, 1913
Place of Birth: Winchester, Virginia
Race: Black (1900 and 1910 Federal Censuses), “Mulatto” (1880 Federal Census), and “Colored” (Certificate of Death)
Places of Residence: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: 1326 Fulton Street (1880), 429 State Street, and 26 South Street
Connection to the Old Eighth Ward: Resident; funeral services for Eighth Ward and elsewhere in Harrisburg; enumerated the population for the federal census.
Family Members: Father: George Thomas. Mother: Martha Coxion. Wife: Marion B. Thomas, m. 1882.
Education: Graduated from a top embalming school in the country
Occupations: Undertaker. Funeral Director. Waiter at the Bolton
Church Membership: Elder Street Presbyterian Church
Activism: Activism: Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, Colored Masons, Knights Templar, Grand Lodge of F. and A.M
Connections: John Quincy Adams, Walter Hooper, Millicent Hooper, James Grant.