There are many fathers of all ethnicities to remember on Father’s Day. The list of those who contributed to making Long Beach what it is today is vast, including many mentioned in my latest book African Americans in Long Beach and Southern California: a History. But what of those who never became a father, but left so much love and devotion behind? Such is the story of Reverend Thurston Lomax, minister of the Second Baptist Church of Long Beach, who became a beacon of hope in the Long Beach African American community.
One of Long Beach’s best-loved ministers, Thurston Lomax, took over ministerial duties of the Second Baptist Church in what was then known as the “Negro District” (today Central Long Beach) in February 1939. The church, founded in 1903, had moved from Atlantic and 10th in 1912, following a property dispute with the Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles. The congregation’s new home at 943 New York, would not become part of Long Beach until 1923. The Second Baptist Church, and later Grant AME, became the focal points of the African American community.
Second Baptist Church of Long Beach – 1934
The popular minister was born January 7, 1913, in Ocean City, New Jersey, the first child of Preston and Estelle Lomax. After Preston’s death, Estelle moved 14-year-old Thurston, 8-year-old Randolph, 3-year-old Gertrude and 2-year-old Lillian to Los Angeles in 1927. When Reverend Harris, the family’s minister, and good friend, left his pastorate at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Ocean City, New Jersey, the new widow followed. Estelle found a job as a maid in a private home but moved in with Grant and his wife Gertrude because she needed help financially and in looking after the children. Reverend Harris and his wife, who had no children, became like parents to the Lomax children. Taken under the wing of Reverend Grant Harris, who went on to become minister of the Zion Hill Baptist Church in Los Angeles, young Thurston decided to follow a religious career. In 1936, he became assistant minister to the Zion Hill church.
Many single female parishioners hoped the handsome African American bachelor would take an interest in them, other than religiously, but that was not to be. The 26-year-old minister was in love with 20-year-old Charlie Mae Crawford, who was choir director of the Zion Hill Baptist Church. Romance blossomed. The two were engaged in August 1938 and wed April 9, 1939, on Easter Sunday.
Murray’s Dude Ranch
The two decided to honeymoon at Murray’s Dude Ranch in Apple Valley, one of the few places open to African Americans at the time. Celebrities and prominent members of Southern California’s African American community flocked to the ranch. Joe Louis, who loved the place, returned there to train for upcoming matches. However, Louis was not one to hinder the path of love, and when he heard the Lomaxes wanted the cottage for their honeymoon, he readily agreed to vacate the bungalow for the newlyweds. He could train elsewhere on the ranch before his bout with Jack Roper in Los Angeles on April 17.
It was an exciting time for the young pair. Besides meeting Joe Louis, they hoped they might run into Lena Horne, Hattie McDaniel, or Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, escaping Hollywood to enjoy the desert. They were anxious to discover the places filmed at the ranch and seen in the films “Bronze Buckaroo,” and “Harlem Rides the Range,” which hit the theaters earlier that year, when the two were courting. The couple liked the ranch so much they returned in October 1940 for a short stay, the price was affordable only $5 ($92 today) a night.
Following their honeymoon at the dude ranch, the popular pair returned to Long Beach where Reverend Lomax continued to serve the church and community. In September 1939, the newlyweds went on a second honeymoon…sort of. Reverend Lomax was asked to speak at the National Baptist Convention in Philadelphia. With the financial aid of the church ($175 then, $3,215 today) they decided to travel by car, along with his mother, Estelle. While in the east, Reverend Lomax was guest speaker at the convention, extending the stay when Lomax was asked to speak at churches in New York and Chicago.
On his one-year anniversary as pastor at the Long Beach church, his accomplishments were touted: nearly 100 new members had joined the church; the debt had been reduced by 65%; the parsonage had been completely renovated and refurbished; a gospel choir of 30 voices had been organized; an Orgatron electric organ purchased, and many other improvements made. In July 1940, the church celebrated paying off the mortgage with a party.
In early October 1941, Reverend Lomax and wife Charlie retreated to Murray’s Dude Ranch, a place they loved. The busy couple were given a month-long vacation to recover from their arduous church duties. In late October Reverend Lomax was granted 6 months leave. He was dying. Family and friends visited him at the ranch and prayed the healthy, dry desert air would improve his health; however, the tuberculosis which he had been fighting for eight years, proved too much. He passed away on December 6, 1941; he was only 28 years old.
In November 1942, the newly installed Baptistery of the Second Baptist church was dedicated to the memory of Reverend Thurston Grant Lomax, a man who had accomplished much in such a short time on earth.