Dr. Thomas Kilgore, Jr. was born February 20, 1913 in Woodruff, South Carolina to Thomas and Eugenia Kilgore. He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1935, did some graduate work at Howard University's School of Religion in 1944 and 1945, and received a Master's of Divinity degree from the Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1957. He held pastorates in North Carolina from 1936 to 1947 and at the Friendship Baptist Church in Harlem from 1947 to 1963, where he rose to prominence in the civil rights movement.
Kilgore began his efforts for equality in the 1940's registering voters and organizing tobacco workers in North and South Carolina. In Harlem, he worked to end segregation in the schools and in housing. In the 1950's and 1960's, he worked closely with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and played a significant role in his Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the South and on both coasts. He was a primary organizer of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom to Washington in 1957 and of the civil rights March on Washington of 1963.
In 1963, Kilgore moved to Los Angeles to become the pastor at the Second Baptist Church. He was the first African-American president of the American Baptist Convention (1969-1970) and also served two terms as the president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (1976-1978). Locally, Kilgore served as a special advisor on community affairs to the University of Southern California president, spent many years on Los Angeles's Community Redevelopment Agency, and worked toward ecumenism and, particularly after the 1992 riots, for dialogue across racial lines.
Kilgore retired in 1985 and passed away in 1998. He married his wife, Jeannetta, in 1936, and they had two daughters, Lynn Elda and Jini Medina.