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Three things: Jim Thornton, Harford County’s NAACP executive board member and chairman of the county’s Caucus of African-American Leaders

Jim Thornton, 72, of Bel Air, at the 1867 McComas Institute in Joppa, one of three Freedmen's Bureau schools in Harford County. Thornton, a retired businessman, chairs Harford County's Caucus of African American Leaders and serves on the county's NAACP executive board.
Jim Thornton, 72, of Bel Air, at the 1867 McComas Institute in Joppa, one of three Freedmen's Bureau schools in Harford County. Thornton, a retired businessman, chairs Harford County's Caucus of African American Leaders and serves on the county's NAACP executive board. (Amy Davis)

Though 72 years old, Jim Thornton has yet to slow down. He serves on Harford County’s NAACP executive board and chairs the county’s Caucus of African-American Leaders. The Bel Air resident is also vice-chair of the board of trustees of the Baltimore Museum of Art and a former member of the Harford County Board of Education.

Here are three things you might want to know about Thornton:

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His chemistry teacher lit his fire for learning.

“I grew up in humble circumstances in Alabama in the 1960s, attended a segregated school and planned to either go into the military or work in an auto plant. Then a teacher, Lucy Lewis, said, ‘Jim, you have potential.’ At her insistence, I went to Talledega College, became a store manager for Sears and then vice president of its automotive business.

"I was the first in my family to go to college. Had it not been for [Lewis’] belief in me, I’d probably still be working in that auto plant.”

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The 1867 McComas Institute in Joppa, one of three Freedmen's Bureau schools in Harford County, is on the National Register of Historic Places. After the school for African Americans closed in 1939, it was used by the nearby Mt. Zion Methodist Church. In 1995, the restoration of the building was completed.
The 1867 McComas Institute in Joppa, one of three Freedmen's Bureau schools in Harford County, is on the National Register of Historic Places. After the school for African Americans closed in 1939, it was used by the nearby Mt. Zion Methodist Church. In 1995, the restoration of the building was completed. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

He is determined to preserve historic Black venues.

"I’ve helped to restore two of Harford County’s 19th-century African-American schools, the Hosanna School in Darlington and the McComas Institute in Joppa, into living history museums. We’ve re-created classrooms with chalkboards and artifacts to give them the look and feel of an old one-story schoolhouse. I’m passionate about keeping those buildings, both built in 1867, as a testament to what people with the most meager of resources understood about the importance of education.

“Our forefathers made tremendous sacrifices for their children, to try and level the playing field — and I want to see that story retold.”

Walking Civil War battlefields is his goal.

"I’ve been to Gettysburg, Fort Sumter and New Market Heights [Virginia], where Sgt. Alfred B. Hilton, a Black soldier from Havre de Grace, was killed in the battle and [posthumously] received the nation’s Medal of Honor, the only Harford Countian in the war to do so.

“I’m building an itinerary to visit as many battlefields as I can, at least 10 or 12 more, to learn what I should have learned in high school. Understanding all of this is re-cementing, in my mind, the tremendous price this country paid in this battle that, in many ways, we continue to fight.”

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