As remembered by Angela Gilmore (daughter)
Born on a plot of land that had belonged to his family for five generations, Thomas Gilmore called Forkland, Alabama home most of his life. He was the only child born to his mother, Beatrice Gilmore O'Neal. His childhood days were spent in the home of his grandmother, Clara Gilmore, whom he regarded as one of the greatest influences on his life.
Educated in the Greene County Public School System, Thomas Earl Gilmore, Sr boasted that he was a scholar and an athlete. He proudly played center on his high school football team and eventually gained the attention of his high school sweetheart. Upon graduating from Greene County Training School in May, 1959, Gilmore announced his call to the ministry. He had long been active in the Old Green Oak Baptist Church where he had confessed his faith in God.
In the presence of his mother, grandmother, future wife, friends and community members, he preached his first sermon on September 20, 1959 at Old Greene Oak Baptist Church. He recalled taking his text from the first chapter, second verse of Mark. Following his initial sermon, he remained busy as the community's young preacher. Although he had enrolled as a freshman studying history and religion at Selma University, he returned home every two weeks to preach at local churches. In 1961, Reverend Gilmore was appointed pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church. He remained there for nearly 2 years and resigned in 1963.
In 1963, Thomas Gilmore married his high school sweetheart, Minnie Lee Gilbert. He said that he knew shortly after they dated that Minnie had been designed by God for him. They began to immediately work on building a family that continued to grow for many years. Later that year, the family left Greene County and moved to Los Angeles, California. In 1965, he returned from California to settle in Greene County once again. Gilmore became pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Boligee, Alabama. He remained at St. Luke for 16 years before he resigned.
One particular incident that occurred in February, 1965 cemented him to the politics of Greene County. He hit a mud puddle and splashed dirty water on a state trooper's car. Gilmore immediately got out and apologized to the officer. When Gilmore stated that he would pay to have his car washed, the officer promised to get Gilmore at another time and allowed him to leave. Following this incident, Gilmore was convinced that he needed to get involved and fight for change.
He became involved with Reverend Branch and the politics of Greene County soon after his return. He formed connections with both SCLC and SNCC. Eventually, his commitment to the non-violence philosophy brought him closer to Dr. King and the work of the SCLC.
By 1970, when Gilmore was elected Sheriff of Greene County, the majority of the public offices in the county had been filled by African Americans. His birth county had become the first in the nation to accomplish this type of takeover. Gilmore served as Sheriff for three terms.
As he began his first term as Sheriff, he accepted the pastorate of the Evening Star Baptist Church in Forkland, Alabama. He remained at Evening Star until 1981, having served at the church for 10 years. Of course, his religious beliefs had a profound impact on his political work. He continued to pastor and became known as the Sheriff Without a Gun. His work and life became the focus of a movie starring Louis Gossett, Jr. After serving twelve years in office, Reverend Gilmore decided not to seek another term because he felt the Lord leading him to devote more time to religious and community service.
In 1981, he was called to the Eastern Star Baptist Church in Demopolis, Alabama. During one of the church's annual revival, 32 people were converted and baptized all in one evening at the end of the week. He served as pastor of Eastern Star Baptist until 1983.
Pastor Thomas Gilmore moved to Birmingham to serve as pastor of First Baptist Church, Ensley in 1983. Under his leadership, the church initiated many programs and Pastor Gilmore attempted to lead the church toward tithing and offering as the approved method of funding God's church. During his tenure at First Baptist, he has served as Moderator of the Peace Baptist District and Secretary of the Al. Church for 32 years.
His work has allowed him to travel and minister throughout this country, South America, the Middle East and the African continent. He has ministered in Israel, Liberia, Nigeria, Swaziland and South Africa. A believer in lifelong education, Gilmore has an earned Bachelor of Theology, Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Studies, Masters of Ministry at Birmingham Theological Seminary and Doctor of Ministry at Columbia Theological Seminary. Several honorary degrees have been bestowed upon him, including a Doctor of Divinity from Birmingham Baptist Bible College, a Doctor of Divinity from Selma University and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Miles College.
He has been the subject of several books including Cradle of Freedom by Frye Gaillard, The Southerner by Marshall Frady, The Way out Leads In by William Beardsley, The Agitator's Daughter by Cheryl Cashin and Boom by Tom Brokaw. As well, Gilmore was the subject of the movie, This Man Stands Alone.
Dr. Thomas Gilmore was preceded in death by his wife of 35 years, Minnie Lee Gilmore (1998); his grandmother, Claretter Gilmore (2000); and his grandson, Travelle Edmond Drake (2015) a Marine veteran.
Cherishing life-long memories are: His mother, Beatrice Gilmore O'Neal; his daughter, Angela Denise; his sons, Reginald Bruce, Thomas Earl, JR, Ronald Bernard, Andrew Marcus and Andre Kareem; his grandchildren, Tiffany, Reginald JR, Clarissa, Traneita, Bria, Fakiya, Andrew Jr and Diamond; his great- grandchildren, Christian, Corban, Kellin and Isabella Minnie; aunts, uncles, cousins, dear friends, Greene County and his First Baptist Church Family.
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. II Timothy 4:6-8.
As remembered by John Reynolds
August 10, 2015
I received some sad news late last night. Thomas Gilmore passed away this weekend. I had talked to him just last week about the Reunion. He was looking forward to coming and being on a panel to talk about SCOPE's impact on his election as the first black sheriff in the South, and how SCOPE helped change the political landscape. Gilmore was one of those people that if you were around him, you couldn't help but to love him. He was my co-freedom fighter and my friend. He was featured in a number of books, including my own. He was played in the movie, "Sheriff Without a Gun," by Lou Gossett. The town square in Eutaw, Alabama, was named after him only a couple of years ago. Another freedom fighter is gone.
As remembered by Lula Joe
August 10, 2015
Once again the Death Angel has stopped at our Civil Rights Family door! I got word from several of you, as well as a family member of our Movement Brother, Rev. Sheriff Thomas Gilmore, letting us know that he had passed away around 3:00 PM on yesterday while in a Birmingham hospital. I will continue to Pray for comfort and strength for his family and ask that you would please do the same.
May God continue to Bless and Keep each of you,
As remembered by Maria Gitin
August 10, 2015
He was an amazing youth and an amazing man. I'm grateful that I got to meet him last Fall. A true Freedom Fighter. My thoughts are with you. May he rest in blessed memory.
As remembered by Don Jelinek
August 14, 2015
Sheriff Tom was a good man, a great man and a cherished friend. His courage to run a campaign against his predecessor — and then beat him in the next election, was unheralded. Those of us who walked alongside him in his daily efforts had our share of excitement for that day.
In addition to being a minister, he was a very effective community organizer. His efforts in connection with the Bokulich case led the US Supreme Court to ban "voter suppression-type laws" that prevented Blacks from serving on grand juries in the state of Alabama. Tom will be much missed.