Yvonne Thomas

Yvonne Johnson Thomas

Beholding her beauty, her smile, her grace, you understand that greatness is among us. Before she utters one word, you know that she represents leadership. While the man ho would later become her husband was blazing the trails of racial equality as one of the first CORE Freedom Riders, Yvonne Thomas was also making her mark. In 1961, at 13 years of age, she and her girlfriends were taking a short cut across the campus of the University of South Carolina, when they were chased from the site by angry students screaming racial slurs and throwing rocks. What would deter any other young child to ever step foot on that campus again, challenged young Yvonne. For it was at that moment, that she had resolved, not only would she be back, but she would return as a student. It was a vow she would make only to herself, for fear that others would be opposed to her decision and steer her in another direction.

Four years later, Yvonne held true to her promise. Though admissions required you to identify your race, as well as accompany a picture with your application, Yvonne Thomas admits that she omitted both and received her letter of acceptance a mere two weeks before Christmas. It was a gift she believed she was giving to her parents, as she reasoned and rationalized the benefits of attending the University of South Carolina. However her parents, Coleman and Beatrice Johnson weren’t pleased; in fact they feared for the life and safety of their eldest daughter, attending an all-White university in the deeply segregated south. Determined to see her goal to fruition, Yvonne Thomas attended classes in the fall amongst 11 other Black students.

The reaction of the students didn’t surprise her as they would take every measure to assure they kept as far away from her as possible. Many would walk in the streets to avoid passing her on the sidewalk, or get up from their chairs if she sat near them in class, some opting to stand in the back of the class for the 55 minute duration rather than sit next to her. Though there were four Black students in the School of Business, Yvonne Thomas never shared a class with any other Black student and many times, she was the only female student in attendance. With all of the opposition she faced, Yvonne Thomas graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1968 as the first African American with a four-year degree in business. >> Read More