Trustee Hank Thomas travels as the national spokesperson for the Freedom Riders
Talladega, Alabama—It has been an eventful year for Talladega College Board of Trustee member Henry “Hank” Thomas as he relives what he did at the tender age of 19 before national audiences. Often when Mr. Thomas, an original and National Spokesperson for the Freedom Riders, is asked why he got on the bus, he replies, “We saw something wrong and we decided to do something about it.”
Trustee Thomas dazzled the Talladega College Commencement audience with this statement and other kind words in appreciation of his standing ovation when he received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from TC during the College’s 136th Commencement Exercises May 1st. TC President, Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, asked the audience to stand and celebrate this commendable man who he called, “a veteran civil rights foot soldier, who changed history and made it possible for all of us to be here today.” But the accolades didn’t begin or stop there. Mr. Thomas was honored as an American Hero by Oprah Winfrey during The Oprah’s Tribute to Freedom Riders’ show on May 4th. Trustee Thomas appeared on the show along with 177 survivors from the Freedom Rides. 2011 is the golden year, 50th celebration of the Freedom Rides that began in Washington, DC in May 1961 and culminated in the desegregation of interstate bus and train travel in the United States. The movement had encompassed the efforts of whites, blacks, Jews, Protestants, and ordinary every day citizens that risked their lives to defy the status quo. He has received many accolades for his bravery by participating in this historic event 50 years ago that changed the lives of most Americans. Last Sunday, The Washington Post, Washington D.C.’s oldest newspaper, featured Trustee Thomas on the front page. In March 2011, a resolution honoring Thomas was presented to him by Mississippi State Senator John Hohrn at the capitol in Jackson for his unwavering spirit and toil during the Freedom Rides. The city of Anniston, Alabama hosted a jam-packed series of events on May 12-14 in honor of the 50th Anniversary where Mr. Thomas was the keynote speaker. He is one of the two existing survivors of the Greyhound Bus that was attacked in Anniston. The Anniston Star produced a commemorative piece in their paper entitled “The Ride,” which depicts photographs, interviews, and a listing of events that were held in commemoration of the Anniston bus attack 50 years ago. In The Ride, Hank Thomas stated,“The civil rights movement was all about removing the Jim Crow laws that would cause people to want to kill me for wanting to sit on the front seat of a bus. Our sole function was to change these kinds of things. Well, we did.” “The Freedom Riders, an American Experience,” documentary aired Monday night on PBS.