A law professor’s contributions to civic and cultural life deserve a place in the lobby


OROVILLE — Oroville Union High School District Hall of Fame inductee Kendall Thomas graduated from Oroville High School in three years. Thomas entered high school with the class of 1975 and graduated with the class of 1974, giving the commencement address.

He was a member of the California Scholastic Federation, the National Honor Society, and the Top 10. He received a Bank of America scholarship, the National Achievement Scholarship, a PG&E scholarship, and a college scholarship to Yale University. Thomas also played tennis and wrestling and was active in the student council, Key Club, choir and theater program. He was her sophomore class president.


Outside of school, Thomas was the pianist and music director of the Community Gospel Choir and Oro Vista Baptist Church, where his late grandfather, Reverend PC Harrison, was senior pastor. He was soloist at Christmas Mass at St. Thomas Church and organist at Trinity Presbyterian Church. In 1974-75, he won first place in the state and then second place in the national rounds of the National Baptist Convention Speech Contest.

Thomas received his BA with honors in English Literature and Theater Studies from Yale University in 1978. At Yale, he was director-arranger-pianist of the Yale Gospel Choir and a member of the Battell Chapel Choir, the Yale Alley Cats and of the Whiffenpoofs, an internationally acclaimed, invitation-only a cappella singing group founded in 1909. In 1993, Thomas earned his Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School.

At age 26, Thomas was appointed assistant professor of law at Columbia University. He was tenured as a professor of law in 1992, and in 1994 was appointed Nash Professor of Law, a tenured professorship he holds to this day.

Thomas has been a visiting professor at Stanford University, Princeton University and the University of Maryland in the United States and at the Federal University, Parana and Fundaçao Getulio Vargas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He has lectured worldwide in France, Czech Republic, South Africa, Germany, Haiti, England, Ireland, Italy, Russia and the Netherlands.

In November 2020, Thomas delivered the annual Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lecture at the University of Oxford Law School in England. In November, he will return to Oxford to take part in a debate organized by the Oxford Union, whose previous American guests have included Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Thomas is the founding director of Columbia’s Studio for Law and Culture. He has served on the boards of numerous professional organizations, including the City University of New York’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies and the CU Press Editors’ Advisory Board. He is a faculty member and program director of the Columbia-Leyden-Amsterdam Summer Program in American Law and past chair of the Jurisprudence and Law and Humanities Sections of the American Association of Law Schools. Thomas was also a Berlin First Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany.

A resident of Harlem, Thomas has been active in the civic and cultural life of New York. He has served on the boards of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the New York City AIDS Memorial and the Film Forum. He was minister of music for the Philadelphia Baptist Church of Christ, composer, pianist and vocal soloist for the Jerriese Johnson East Village Community Gospel Choir, and a member of the Presbytery of Middle Collegiate Church. In February of this year, Thomas performed his fourth solo show as a jazz and blues singer at Joe’s Pub, New York’s Public Theater cabaret.

Thomas is the brother of Kevin Brown, Class of 1984 at Oroville High School, who is also honored as a 2022 OUHSD Hall of Fame inductee.


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