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*Jefferson Thomas was born on this date in1942. He was a Black accountant and activist.
From Little Rock, Arkansas he was the youngest of seven children to Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Thomas. Thomas was a track athlete at all-Black Horace Mann High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) when he chose to volunteer to integrate all-white Central High School in 1957 as a sophomore.
He made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the world watched as they braved constant intimidation and threats from those who opposed desegregation of the formerly all-white high school. The Nine were harassed daily by some white students, and Thomas’s quiet demeanor made him a target for bullies at the school. However, he managed to finish the school year in spite of this torment.
Thomas, along with all other Little Rock high school students, was prevented from attending school the next year after Governor Orval Faubus and the voters of Little Rock closed that city’s public high schools, but he returned to Central the following year and graduated in 1960. He eventually became an accountant for the United States Department of Defense.
Thomas was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1958. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented the nation’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the members of the Little Rock Nine. Thomas retired to Columbus, Ohio with his wife, Mary.
In 2008, (then) President-elect Obama sent Thomas and other members of the Little Rock Nine special invitations to his inauguration as the nation's first Black president. During his campaign, he had said the Little Rock Nine's courage in desegregating Central High helped make the opportunities in his life possible. Thomas died of pancreatic cancer on September 5, 2010.
The Associated Press permissions
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