The Civil Rights

After 
the 
Freedom 
Rides


Hank Thomas owns a spirit of serving and doing for others. He embodies the will to fight for those who can’t or aren’t willing to fight Read More

The
 White
 Man’s 
Burden

In times of old, in times of new, in times to come, there have always been White people who have helped further the cause of the Black Read More

The 
Lynching… the 
Escape

It was 1961, in Winnsboro, SC, Hank Thomas had been arrested for using a “White only” restroom, later that night the police took him from Read More

From 
Core 
to 
SNCC

Upon his arrival at Howard University, Hank Thomas watched a news story that would further propel him into his work for the Civil Rights Read More

Freedom
 Rider

Many have seen the Greyhound bus that was set on fire near Anniston, AL, even heard the story, but one man lived it. Hank Thomas, the Read More

After 
the 
Freedom 
Rides


Hank Thomas owns a spirit of serving and doing for others. He embodies the will to fight for those who can’t or aren’t willing to fight for themselves. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that after the Freedom Rides he was drafted in the Army to serve as a medic during the Vietnam War. “My grandfather served in World War I, my father was a Marine in World War II, [and] I had an Uncle who was killed in Korea – all the men in my family served. Every Black man that has served in the military thinks, maybe subconsciously, “If I prove to my White brethren that I am a patriot, that I love this country, maybe they will treat me better. You have never heard of a Black person being convicted of spying against this country, or committing acts of treason, we are the most loyal of all Americans.” Mr. Thomas gave 3 years of his life to the military. In April, 1966 Mr. Thomas was ambushed, leaving him to spend 6 months as a wounded solider at Walter Reed Army Hospital. For his combat service in Vietnam, he was awarded 6 medals, including the Purple Heart.

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The
 White
 Man’s 
Burden

In times of old, in times of new, in times to come, there have always been White people who have helped further the cause of the Black people. It is for this reason that many understand that without their help we would be stagnant. Yes, we would still fight a good fight and some battles may be won, but to win the war, we needed them, just as they needed us. Hank Thomas recollects, “the first time I ever walked the picket line we were picketing an amusement park that wouldn’t admit Colored’s. The people who walked on that picket line with me, 90% of them were White. It was the first time I experienced Whites working on my behalf. There were a total of 426 Freedom Riders and 50% of them were White and probably, 60 – 65% of the White Freedom Riders were Jews,” Thomas recalls. “Lest I forget thee o Jerusalem,” is a scripture he now holds dear to his heart in reverence to the brave Jews who thought it not robbery to pick up the Black man’s battle and carry the torch beside them. With a stern look that leaves no doubt that his words are true, Mr. Thomas continues, “The Civil Rights Movement was an integrated movement. We needed the participation of the Whites. Numerically, we’re a minority; you can’t change things by yourself! It was those Whites of good will who suffered with us – I tell young people this especially when I hear some of the egregious things that come out of the mouths of some of the Black politicians.”

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The 
Lynching… the 
Escape

It was 1961, in Winnsboro, SC, Hank Thomas had been arrested for using a “White only” restroom, later that night the police took him from jail and delivered him to a waiting Klansmen mob that were determined to lynch him. Once again, Hank Thomas found himself fighting for his life, as he was ordered out of the car at gunpoint; when he saw an opening, he ran! Six feet tall legs running faster than a quarterback until he found relief from a Black man who had been watching the police. Thomas recalls the man pulling up as he was running and saying, “Son, get in this car and get down on the floor, that’s the only way you’re going to survive.” this would be one of many events that made it evident that his actions for civil rights could get him hurt or killed, but he had resolved that this is what he should do. “People have died, Black people have died. While I don’t court martyrdom, I knew that there was the possibility that I could be killed.”

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From 
Core 
to 
SNCC

Upon his arrival at Howard University, Hank Thomas watched a news story that would further propel him into his work for the Civil Rights movement. The CORE students of A&T University were having a “sit‐in” at a lunch counter. “I was ready! I remember seeing it on the evening news and jumping up and telling everyone, “We got to go, we got to do the same thing!”” At that time, Washington, DC had a public accommodations law that allowed people of Color to eat and go where they willed, therefore, Mr. Thomas made the decision to go where the fight was needed. He was among the students who started the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), who later transformed to Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). These brave young men and women travelled to Maryland and Virginia to picket or sit in at lunch counters, and this was only the beginning.

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Freedom
 Rider

Many have seen the Greyhound bus that was set on fire near Anniston, AL, even heard the story, but one man lived it. Hank Thomas, the last of 7 freedom riders who braved angry Klansmen who wanted nothing more than to see them dead is our history, our legend, walking the streets, passing the many men and women of whom he helped to gain privileges they now take for granted, and they don’t even know his face, and barely know his name. Mr. Thomas is a man of many “firsts.” He was the first in his family to go to college, the first Freedom Rider whose appeal went to trial, but he was also the first Freedom Rider to exit the burning bus through the front door. An exit that would greet him with a White man and a baseball bat that slammed into his head, coughing from the fumes, fighting for his life, Mr. Thomas looks back on that day and would change nothing. “The price of freedom is steep. The fear of death was not going to deter me!” These are the words of a man of strength, a man of purpose who “didn’t need prompting, I was always fired up and ready to go.”

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