Special to the NNPA from the Greene County Democrat
More than 500 Greene County citizens and friends from Ensley and across the state attended Saturday’s ceremony to dedicate and name the old Courthouse and Courthouse Square for former Sheriff Thomas E. Gilmore.
Gilmore was the first African-American Sheriff elected in Greene County and the second African-American Sheriff elected in Alabama since Reconstruction. Gilmore a native of Forkland was first elected in the special election of July 29, 1969 and served for three terms beginning in 1970 until he retired to focus on his ministry in 1982. He currently pastors the First Baptist Church of Ensley, Alabama, in the Birmingham area
Gilmore was known as “the sheriff without a gun” because he insisted on carrying out his law enforcement duties in a non-violent manner consistent with the teachings of the Civil Rights Movement of which he was a part.
The ceremonies began with a motorcade that laid a wreath at his grandmother’s grave and his wife’s grave in Forkland. The motorcade came to Eutaw and group of local and church supporters marched from the site of the former Greene County Jail (now General Dollar Store) uptown to the old Courthouse.
During the program, Mayor Hattie Edwards gave Gilmore the key to the city; Senator Bobby Singleton presented a resolution from the State Legislature; and current Sheriff Jonathan Joe Benison, gave him a Greene County Sheriff’s Department shirt. In his remarks, Benison said that Gilmore had given him his first job as a deputy in the early 1970’s.Retired Federal Judge U. W. Clemons read parts of a letter from former Attorney General Bill Baxley calling Gilmore the most honest brave and courageous man, both physically and morally in Greene County and the State of Alabama for his service as sheriff, to the church and to the community.
The Greene County Commission, headed by Commissioner Nick Underwood, joined Gilmore in unveiling a new marker on the Courthouse Square explaining the naming and honoring of the old Courthouse building and square for Gilmore.
Gilmore was joined by his mother, daughter, five sons and numerous grandchildren in unveiling the new marker.
Gilmore said he had three basic observations: “ That God is good and good to all of his people; that Greene County is a great county and its people set the standard and provide leadership for others; and that the Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, was a great movement that changed the lives and hearts of many people – Black and white – in Alabama and around the nation.”In his remarks, thanked many people who helped him along the way to work in the movement, become sheriff and continue to work in the ministry. Among those he cited were Attorney Orzell Billingsley Jr., Attorney Charles Morgan, Bobby Kennedy, Johnathan Shields; James Orange, Sunshine Owens and Willie Tabb of SCLC; Rev. Willie Bolden, Connie Curry and Bill Eisenhower of the American Friends Service Committee; John Cashin of the National Democratic Party of Alabama; Attorney Donald Jealinick and his assistant Kathy Viet; Rev. Joe Lowery, Hosea Williams, T. Y. Rogers, Ralph Abernaphy and Fred Shuttlesworth of SCLC.
The ceremony ended with everyone linking arms and signing “We Shall Overcome” the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.