From NewsChannel 3 to the Virginia Supreme Court to Carnegie Hall

Posted at 12:09 AM, Feb 23, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-24 10:51:58-05

Norfolk, Va. - Judge John Charles Thomas has many accomplishments to his name, including finding one of his first jobs at NewsChannel 3.

Now he's about to add one more: Carnegie Hall performer.

In 1983, Judge Thomas became the first African-American to serve on the Virginia Supreme Court and at 32 years old, he was the youngest person ever to be appointed to the high court.

On Saturday, his newest accomplishment will be as a performer at Carnegie Hall where he will perform his original poetry for the very first time in public.

Thomas, a member of the William and Mary Board of Visitors, will perform at 8 p.m. with three faculty members from W&M accompanying him.

Thomas began reciting poetry when he was just 4-years-old living in his grandparents' home in the Huntersville section of Norfolk.

"I was around my Granddaddy all the time and he loved poetry. So he found that I had a pretty good memory and decided that he was going to teach me," Thomas said.

As Thomas learned poems, his grandfather would have him recite the poems to friends.

"He would put me on a side porch in front of his buddies and make me recite," Thomas said. "As I went through the poem, if I got a good long run, all these old guys would say “Go, Go, Go!” and cheer as though it’s a sports contest."

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Thomas wouldn't write a poem until 1967 when he was a student at Maury High School.

As one of the school's first African-American students, Thomas' poem was not received well by his teacher.

"When I turned that poem in, the teacher reads it, walks over to my desk in front of the class, throws the poem at me and says 'I reject this, I do not believe a colored child could write this,'" Thomas explained.

Rather than get discouraged, Thomas kept writing his poems, but he's never performed them in public.

In the summer of 1970, Thomas secured at job at NewsChannel 3, which at the time was WTAR Television when he was a student at the University of Virginia.

After Thomas read a script about a ferry crash in New York City in the newsroom, the News Director at the time made the decision to put him on-air.

"I go from sweeping the floors in the newsroom to going on the air in the summer of 1970," Thomas said.

Thomas recalls covering a variety of stories, including a ship hitting the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, the construction of the Norfolk Scope and numerous homecomings and deployments.

Now Thomas is ready to use that broadcasting voice as he performs at Carnegie Hall Saturday night.