A Note of Condolence to Ademola

DSC03742 An innovative Artist and Cultural Hero

A Remembrance on the Passing of his Beloved Mother. 

As the old adage goes: “Behind every great man stands a great woman.” And the woman behind this great man, artist, culture hero and faithful friend was Mrs. Golda Valencia Matthias-Thomas, who lately danced and joined the ancestors.  Born at the dawning of the 20th century, 1921, on the small island of St. Johns in the former Danish Virgin Islands, which had only recently come under formal American control on March 13, 1917, she would spend the majority of her life – which spanned nearly a century – in the great metropolis of New York City.

Coming of age on the smallest and most underdeveloped of the cluster of Virgin Islands,  life was difficult and young Golda was tasked with transporting her father’s catch of fresh fish to the market in Cruz Bay from their home in Coral Bay by donkey – a trip that took from sun-up to nightfall.  Because she had to work as a child she was unable to gain much formal education, but this experience taught her the virtue of honest work and the value of education which inspired a life-long love of reading. Like most enthusiastic autodidacts she developed broad eclectic intellectual interests that included art, music, theater, math, geography, world politics, etc.

A regal ebony beauty with a model’s physique she became a skilled seamstress and made her own wardrobe, which stood out both in her native Virgin Islands and when she relocated to New York City in 1945, after marrying Harold Alexander Thomas Jr., the son of a respected community leader and the first native born pharmacist in the Virgin Islands.

They settled first in Brooklyn, where they found a vibrant West Indian community, but as an American naval veteran from World War II Harold was eligible for residence in the newly constructed Amsterdam Houses, which are adjacent to where the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts now stands, and was a historic Afro-American neighborhood with a dynamic artistic community called “Black Bohemia” in the pre-Harlem period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was a multi-ethic public housing development that was envisioned by its planners as an enlightened alternative to ill kept segregated tenements.  Another distinguished artist who grew up there and, like Ademola, would go on to make an indelible mark on American culture through artistic innovation was the great Jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Theolonius Monk.

Due to the fact that Ademola’s father was a merchant seaman, the daily routine of raising their family of three boys – Bedwick aka “Ademola,” Verl and Harold – fell to his mother.  It was she who tutored them in their homework while imparting her reverence for learning and love of the arts, and imposed a strict discipline that steered her sons away from the many vices and pitfalls that were common fare on the streets of New York City.  Even more remarkably she accomplished this daunting task while successfully negotiating the myriad obstacles she confronted as an immigrant, a black person, and a woman with an amazing grace.

The greatest testimony to her success in transcending these barriers that would have defeated a weaker person is her three sons, all of who are law abiding productive persons that have made positive contributions to American society.  Since I met Mrs. Golda Thomas only once, and she was then a stalwart octogenarian, I know her mainly through her sons, especially Ademola, who has been like the brother I never had…my brother from another mother.

Of all the remarkable men I have met in life none ranks higher in my estimation as a man of honor, integrity and sterling character.   And since I am one who believes that we have no right to claim the achievements of our ancestors, because we contributed nothing to their success, but the character and achievements of our children is is just cause for pride or shame because they are our handiwork, the ultimate testament to the life of Mrs. Golda Thomas is the caliber of her sons.  Her life spanned nearly a century and from all accounts her good deeds were immeasurable.  Now she shall take her place among the honored ancestors for eternity.  May she rest in Peace.

 Ms Golda’s Other Sons

Ademola's Brothers Verl and Harold

Veryl and Harold 

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New york
February 20, 2014

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