Benjamin James (“B. J.”) Thomas, Jr., a teacher and one of the first African-American police officers with the Dallas Police Department in the post-World War II era, was born on October 24, 1922, to Jim Thomas and Willie M. Thomas. Born on a farm near Plano, Texas, in rural Collin County, Thomas had four sisters and one brother. A gifted athlete, he excelled at both football and track while attending Plano High School. He earned an athletic scholarship to Texas College in Tyler. Thomas later mused, “my family was not able to pay the remaining $9 tuition per month, and I left the college owing $181.00.” He later attended Dallas Baptist University in Dallas. Thomas married Mildred DeLoach Winston in 1943 in Plano, Texas.
Thomas served in the United States Army during World War II as a military policeman and participated in the invasion of Normandy, France. After his return from the war, the couple started a family and had two children—a daughter, Maye Lizabeth, and a son, Benjamin James, III. At this time, he resumed his profession as a teacher. Disliking teaching, however, he found alternate work pressing clothes at a garment cleaning shop.
At the urging of his wife, Mildred, who was a teacher in the Dallas Independent School District, Thomas answered a newspaper advertisement that read, “Wanted–Negro Policemen,” Upon successful completion of the civil service examination, in addition to physical and mental requirements, Thomas became a Dallas police officer on February 10, 1947. His first beat was Hall Street and Thomas Avenue, which he patrolled on foot with fellow applicant Lee Gilbert Brotherton beginning in March 1947.
After seven years of patrolling, Thomas was promoted to detective in the Dallas Police Department. His career included stints in the vice department and working with juvenile offenders. He later credited counseling juveniles and their families as his most rewarding work, saying, “Families come to me with their problems. Parents and children seek my advice. I play the role of family consultant on many occasions, even marriage problems. It is an amazing thing about people. They are so happy and relieved after our informal talks.” He received many accolades for his service in crime prevention, drug education, and community relations.
Besides being a devoted father to his two children, Thomas was a member of the Idlewild Men’s Social Club and enjoyed hunting, fishing, and flying airplanes in his free time. He retired from the Dallas Police Department in 1974. Thomas earned the respect of his colleagues in the police department and served as a role model to fellow African-American officers, including Sgt. Edgar McMillan of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, who said that Thomas guided him to a career in law enforcement. Thomas had told him, “If you’re going to make it in law enforcement, you’ll have to reach higher than the average person.”
On January 4, 1989, Thomas passed away at age sixty-six at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Dallas after a long illness. His funeral service was held at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, and he was buried at Restland Memorial Park in Dallas.