Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Former SGA President and wife speak on art at the University

Former Student Government Association President Cleo Thomas and his wife Carla Thomas spoke in the Ferguson Center Saturday to address the 60 works of their collected art on display in the Ferguson Center Art Gallery.

Thomas earned his undergraduate degree when he was 20 years old, and in 1976 became the only black SGA president at the University of Alabama. Thomas was also elected to the Board of Trustees at age 27, the youngest trustee in history.

“Cleo made history here on campus in 1976,” said Robert Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, during his introduction.

The gallery and event commemorate the 50th anniversary of Department of American Studies at the University, which Thomas credits for his interest in art and the creation of his collection. He said their collection now includes more than 300 pieces of art.

“Being launched into truly American art history resulted from the experience of being a student here at the University of Alabama in American Studies,” Thomas said.

The primary focus of their art displayed on campus is people, especially those who were involved in the American Civil Rights Movement. Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. are recurring figures, and images from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 are also featured.

Thomas said his gallery was centered on people who faced and conquered adversity, people who were unwilling to run away from the problems their society presented them.

“The camera really peels away all of the unnatural social restraints,” Thomas said. “They look like the people that they are.”

Thomas said the art is about people who are trying to simply live where they are.

“My secretary thinks they’re kind of gloomy,” Thomas said. “I guess they kind of are, although I’m generally an upbeat person.

“A lot of this art looks crazy. But there’s a strain of that in my line, and I think trying to stay, that can make you crazy. So you have to do the best you can.”

Others are glad that Thomas continues to leave behind a legacy.

“We are very grateful that you have found a way to stay,” said Lynne Adrian, chair of the Department of American Studies. “And Cleo, you have really contributed to making this a place where others want to and are able to stay.”

The gallery has been on display in the Ferguson Center Art Gallery since Oct. 6, and will remain there until Oct. 26, where interested students and faculty can see it free of charge.

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