R.I.P. Jefferson Thomas, One Of Central High’s ‘Little Rock Nine’

- By Bossip Staff

Mr. Thomas, who lived a mile from Central High and three miles from the all-black high school, was a 15-year-old sophomore and track standout when he volunteered to break the color barrier at Central.

More than 100 black students volunteered, but the list was pared down by school officials. Only nine showed up on Sept. 4, 1957, to go to school, but they were denied entry by the Arkansas National Guard. They entered successfully on Sept. 25, escorted by the 101st Airborne.

Besides LaNier, the others were Minnijean Brown Trickey, Elizabeth Eckford, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Terrence Roberts, Melba Pattillo Beals and Ernest Green.

The superintendent of schools counseled the teenagers not to retaliate against white protesters as the war between federal and state authority was captured on television. Once attending school, many of the nine were harassed and intimidated for months and years to come.

Brown Trickey was expelled after dumping a bowl of chili over the head of a white student who had insulted her; Mr. Thomas, Green and LaNier were the only ones of the Nine to graduate from Central, although all of them went on to college and careers.

Mr. Thomas said he tried whenever possible to avoid drawing attention.

“I would get out of the way,” he told the Times. “I was a skinny little guy. I’d been on the track team in junior high. I could run fast. I looked at it this way: If I’d been in an all-black school and a 6-foot-1, 200-pound guy pushed me around, I wouldn’t go flying into his chest. Mentally what would hurt was when little puny guys came up and slapped you in the face. You couldn’t hit back.

“We got better experienced at getting out of the way as the year went on. You’d laugh at the fact that they ran into the wall while they were going after you.”

Jefferson Allison Thomas, the youngest of seven children, was born Sept. 19, 1942, in Little Rock.

He said his role in the integration of Central High “destroyed the family base,” noting that his father was fired from a sales job with International Harvester because of the controversy. The elder Thomas scraped by as a handyman and, the day after his son’s graduation, moved to the family out of the state.

Jefferson Thomas later recalled his family’s journey to California as a scene of misery from the pages of John Steinbeck’s Depression-era novel “The Grapes of Wrath” — “everything on top of the car and you move off.”

He received a degree in business administration from what became California State University at Los Angeles and then served in the Army in Vietnam. He later worked in accounting for Mobil Oil and the Defense Department, from which he retired several years ago.

In 1964, he narrated “Nine From Little Rock,” the Academy Award-winning documentary short directed by Charles Guggenheim that explored the incident through Mr. Thomas’s eyes.

His first marriage, to Fatima Thomas, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, Mary Branch Thomas of Groveport, Ohio, whom he married in 1998; a son from his first marriage, Jefferson Thomas Jr. of Los Angeles; two stepchildren, Frank Harper of Pittsburgh and Marilyn Carter of Columbus; three brothers; three sisters; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.

On the 40th anniversary of their enrollment, members of the Little Rock Nine received Congressional Gold Medals, the highest award bestowed by Congress. They were presented by President Bill Clinton in a White House ceremony.

It took a lot of bravery for those kids to integrate that school — something many people take for granted today. Segregation still hasn’t happened successfully in many areas of America, but our society should always show gratitude toward Jefferson Thomas and the other members of the “Little Rock Nine”

Rest In Peace



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  • nana

    Am not even going to pretend I know him but R.I.P!

  • time2getfree

    nana – u don’t know who the little rock 9 are? it’s time to read up on your history.

  • sillez

    Forever a ledgend, and they are for what the did and went though! The brown vs Education a huge change and the change we needed in American history. It’s sad the military use to have to go to school to protect black kids. smh R.I.P


    another great blackmen

  • Prettyrenee

    R.I.P to a brave man who stood up and faced adversity during a time that racial tensions were very high! You will always be remembered for being one of those 9 Black students that broke that barrier! Kids these days would have never been able to go through what you went through and for that, you will always be a legend in my book.

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  • if anything be noble

    Man, I can’t even IMAGINE going through all that, much less go through it at 16 years old. Folk spitting at you, calling you ‘n-word’ as you just try to enter a school building. And he’s the 1st of the Little Rock 9 to die …and he was 67? That’s amazing since all that stress should have killed them all a long time ago (like those whitefolks were intending to do.) May the Lord welcome you home, brother. You helped us all.

  • Yea I'm a racist

    This is y I don’t support interracial dating…

  • Prettyrenee

    It is sad when this has the least amount of comments. This blog should be flooded with people paying condolences. He is a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement and we’re busy commenting on Dwight Howard and his baby mama drama!

  • Sanriobaby =^.^=

    R.I.P. to a man who’s brave and noble actions helped to change our world.

  • http://bossip Tiki Barber

    Rip Mr. Thomas you and your fellow champions were brave and I agree noble.


  • sunflower

    What a life , thanks to all that gave me an opportunity. The best way to honor those that paved the way is to strive for excellence.

  • Kay G. from FL

    Thank you Mr. Thomas – I and many other students of color owe our mixed educational experiences to your and the other 8’s bravery in Little Rock that first day.

  • Reality

    May his family be comforted as he rests with the Lord in heaven chilling and having a great eternity. They paved the way for all our black behinds to enjoy education and wonderful capitalism. Forget bush, Palin and Obama for a second and per homage to true heroes.

  • whatda

    Thanks and rest in peace. Because of you I could get myh education in peace. You and the rest did us proud.

  • BBBEE25


  • gradschool

    RIP, what they endured to make our lives better. What are we doing with the opportunities today? Don’t let their sacrifices go in vain.

  • http://TLBaby I gets down like that

    R.I.P Mr. Thomas, may GOD be with you. Thank you for all of your sacrifices. For it will not be forgotten.

    @ yeah I’m a racist: 100% CO-SIGN baby!!!

  • Sydney™

    I recall feeling a surge of emotion when I learned that the Little Rock Nine were invited to attend the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president — the day was filled with so much history, the meeting of the past, the present, and the future of blacks in this country. It was overwhelming to witness. We owe so much to Mr. Thomas and so many other men and women and their multitude of sacrifices to ensure that life would be better for those who followed them. R.I.P. Mr. Thomas, a true civil rights pioneer.

  • williedynamite

    yo…this was just a little over 50 years ago…those people who were spitting and throwing rocks are still alive today…and they say racism doesnt exist.smh

  • Nay

    Jefferson Thomas, thank you for your bravery and resilience. May you rest in peace.

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