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Thelma McWilliams Glass

Civil rights pioneer and longtime geography professor Thelma Glass has died at the age of 96.

Glass was a professor of geography at Alabama State University, where she taught for over 40 years. She was the last surviving member of the Women’s Political Council, which helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56, a key event in the civil rights movement.

Glass graduated with honors from the Alabama State Teachers College in 1941. She later attended the Teachers College at Columbia University, where she earned an M.A. in 1947.

John Knight, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Alabama State University, was one of Glass’s students. “She had such a pleasing personality, you felt welcome. You felt a sense of warmth. And she always challenged you academically to be the very best,” Knight was quoted as saying.[i]

Glass was the focus of a chapter written by Jan Monk and Sunita George with  Juanita George, “Teachers and Their Times: Thelma Glass and Juanita Gaston,” published in The South’s Role in the Making of AmericanGeography: Centennial of the AAG, 2004, edited by J.O. Wheeler and Stanley Brunn.

Glass’s main interests in geography included local and regional research in economic, cultural, and physical geography; excellence in education to prepare students for careers in teaching, government, and industry; and the introduction of geography into senior high schools in Alabama. She was well known on campus as a teacher-activist willing to put the values she espoused into action. Glass was deeply committed to the development and future success of her students and sought to introduce them to a broad-based education through the contextualization provided by geography education.

In 2011, Glass received ASU’s Black and Gold Standard Award, a non-annual award that is given to the school’s most notable alumni. She received many teaching awards throughout her career. An auditorium is named for Glass on the Alabama State University campus.


[i] Johnson, Scott. “Civil Rights Pioneer Glass Dies.” Montgomery Advertiser, July 25, 2012. www.montgomeryadvertiser.com. Accessed August 1, 2012.