Let’s Talk Clovis: Rev. Toll Thornton (1870-1955) and Elvey Perkins (1930-2015) – “Dedicated Clovis Community Leaders and Friends”

Left to right: Rev. Toll Thornton and Elvey Perkins Jr. (Courtesy of the Clovis Museum)

We are sharing information on these two community leaders that was presented at our “Let’s Talk Clovis” programs.

Rev. Toll Thornton was born in Louisiana in 1870.  A 1900 census indicated that he was living in Drew, Arkansas with his mother and stepfather. He was listed as a widow with five children, ages 8-1.

He arrived in Clovis in the late 1920’s (1927?). He worked at the O.S. Dimmen barbershop (425 Pollasky). He became known for his prose and rhymes and was viewed as a man of integrity and religious convictions.

We quote from a news article (publisher, date, and author unknown).

“Toll Thornton was probably the only black in Clovis in his time. He ran a shoeshine stand next to the OS. Dimmen barbershop in the late ‘20’s and early ‘30’s.

He endeared himself to many through his sagacious limericks that he used to apply to problems of the day. It was his unobtrusive way of giving advice and those who remember Toll say he had sound views on how to get along. Some have likened him to the present- day Cassius Clay for talking in rhyme.”

Many grammar school students walking from Clovis Grammar School (2nd and Pollasky) would seek advice from him. He was a good listener and provided sound advice.

He encouraged (1935) Emil Prudek to apply for a job with Dimmen. Prudek eventually purchased the barbershop and retired after 45 years. He also became an active community leader. His business became a “sounding board” for other leaders.

Elvey Perkins arrived in Clovis in 1947 and was inspired by Rev. Toll Thornton. Elvey stated: “Rev. Toll Thornton was a Minister but worked as a “shoe black” or shoe shiner in downtown Clovis.”

Elvey Perkins was born (an only child) in Trinity, Texas. His parents were divorced and he was raised by his Grandmother who died in 1945. He arrived in Clovis in 1947 and joined his Mother Lonnie and stepfather Jack Eaton.

The Eaton’s leased (1945) an auto repair shop from Augie Roberts (Fifth and Tollhouse).

We quote Elvey: “Jack and my mother were the first African Americans in Clovis to own and operate a commercial business. Dennis Hallowell assisted them by sending some of his repair work overload. They purchased their parts from Phil Garver, Dennis Hallowell’s brother-in-law, and father of Clovis High teacher Phil  Garver Jr.”

Elvey graduated from Clovis High in 1950. The Cavalcade described him: “A smile for everyone, football, band, good humor, polite, good sport and well liked.”  While at Reedley College, he was drafted into the U.S. Army (Korean War) but was honorably discharged due to a football ankle injury.

He married Geraldine (Gerrie) Bryant in 1951. The couple became tireless, talented civic and church leaders (Clovis Mt. Moriah Baptist Church). Gerrie died at age 48. The Clovis Police Department (full dress uniforms) escorted her funeral procession.

On May 28, 1957, Elvey was the first African American to be hired by the City of Clovis. He was trained (without pay for two weeks) by Louis Milanesi, supervisor of the sewage treatment plant. Louis became a father figure and personal Clovis historian to Elvey. He retired in 1967 and Elvey was appointed field Services Superintendent.

Elvey retired on October 29, 1993 after 36 years of City service. The City declared Elvey Perkins week in 1977 and 1987.  He was inducted into the Clovis Hall of Fame in 1993.

Rev. Toll Thornton and Elvey Perkins remain excellent role models. They provided us a rich heritage.

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.