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*Jefferson Thomas was born on this date in 1942. He was a Black accountant and activist.
He was the youngest of seven children from Little Rock, Arkansas, 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 volunteered 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 the 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 despite this torment.
Thomas and all other Little Rock high school students were prevented from attending school the next year after Governor Orval Faubus and the voters of Little Rock closed that city’s public high schools. Still, 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.