Alvin Rudy Thomas was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, on August 10, 1946. He graduated from Dudley High School in 1963 and then attended North Carolina A&T State University, from which he graduated in 1969.
While at Dudley, Thomas became involved with the local chapter of CORE. He took part in the picketing and sit-ins at local stores and restaurants, and was arrested several times for his participation in these events. Thomas served as chair of the local chapter of CORE in the mid-1960s.
After graduation from A&T, Thomas moved to New Jersey and attended Rutgers University. He graduated with the first master’s degree in labor education offered by that institution. Thomas became education coordinator for the A. Philip Randolph Institute. He later moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where he continued in the field of labor education.