Margaret McCall Thomas Ward (1918-2007), longtime journalist and archivist, recently joined the ancestors. She was born in Alabama and settled in Detroit where she gained recognition in the black press and the public library.
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Margaret Thomas Ward inspired many through dedication and service
The Detroit metropolitan area fondly remembered Margaret McCall Thomas Ward last week for her leadership, professionalism, and relentless dedication to her community. Ward passed away peacefully on November 1, 2007 surrounded by a family who loved and adored her. Her home going service was held at Plymouth United Church of Christ on November 9, where she was a lifelong member.
“She was a beautiful person who inspired and motivated me not only to achieve but also to give back to my community,” said Buzz Thomas, her grandson and member of the Michigan State Senate. “I loved her dearly and was proud to be her grandson.”
Ward was born on October 30, 1918 in Montgomery, Ala. during the racially segregated Jim Crow era. There, her parents, James Edward McCall and Margaret Walker McCall, published a weekly newspaper called The Emancipator, devoted to uplifting the African-American community. After threats leveled by the Ku Klux Klan, Ward’s family moved several hundred miles north to Detroit in 1920. At that time, Detroit’s population was booming with nearly one million people but had fewer than 41,000 African-American residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau records.
After graduating from Southeastern High School in Detroit at the age of 15, Ward assisted her parents in editing and publishing the Detroit Independent and the Detroit Tribune newspapers. In August 1940, Ward married her first husband, Samuel H. Thomas Sr. They lived happily in Detroit until his death in 1969. Sam and Margaret had four children whose welfare was the focus of her life. She worked tirelessly to assure that each child was nurtured and well educated. Ward’s second marriage was to The Honorable Willis F. Ward, which endured until his death in 1983.
Driven by a thirst for learning, Ward attended the University of Michigan and at age 19 earned a bachelor’s degree in Education and Library Science from Wayne State University. She later returned to school to complete her master’s degree in Library Science at the University of Michigan. She also completed post-graduate studies in Archival Administration and Oral History at Wayne State University.
Throughout her life, Ward worked tirelessly to preserve the history of Detroit’s African-American community. She was the librarian-archivist in the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library from 1974 until her retirement. While serving there, she formed the first African-American genealogical society in Michigan, The Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society. Subsequent to her work at the Burton Historical Collection, she assisted Dr. Charles H. Wright to develop a library for the Museum ....of African American History. She served as librarian of the Museum of African American History from 1987-1999, where Room 207 is known as the Margaret McCall Thomas Ward Rare Book Room.
Ward clearly understood the importance of collective action. She participated in many organizations including: Executive Committee of the Wayne State University Walter P. Reuther Library, the American Library Association, Association of African American Librarians, The Detroit Study Club, the Northeasterners, the Brazeal Dennard Choral, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Links, the Detroit Chapter of Jack & Jill, the Doolittles Bridge Club, The Society of American Archivists, the Organization of African American Librarians, the Michigan Oral History Association, and the State of Michigan Freedom Trail Commission. It was her idea to create the commission. Thomas Gill created it.
In honor of her exceptional contribution to the community and dedication to literature and education she received the Association of American Museums Service Award. She was also awarded the Wayne County Artistic Excellence and Community Commitment Award and the Dr. Alain Locke Award from the Friends of African and African American Art.
Margaret McCall Thomas Ward, her family and friends point out, was a beautiful and loving woman who brought joy to everyone she touched. She is survived by her loving children, Samuel (Rhonda) Thomas, Jr. of Ann Arbor, The Honorable Edward (Lynne) Thomas of Detroit, Edythe Thomas of Sarasota, Fla. and Alfred Thomas (fiance) Linda Johnson) of Detroit and; adoring grand children, State Senator Buzz Thomas, Erin Thomas and Michael Thomas, nephew, The Honorable Charles (Suzan) Anderson III and niece Victoria (John) Pinderhughes; as well as grand-nephew, Charles William Anderson IV and grand-nieces Sienna Victoria Pinderhughes, Ghenet Breanna Pinderhughes. She was preceded in death by her sister Victoria McCall Anderson Davenport.