Jefferson Thomas, who as a teenager was among nine black students to integrate a Little Rock high school in the nation’s first major battle over school segregation, has died.
Official commentary states that Thomas died Sunday in Ohio of pancreatic cancer, according to a Monday statement from Carlotta Walls LaNier, who also enrolled at Central High School in 1957 and is president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation.
As we know, the history books have taught us that the integration fight was a first real test of the federal government’s resolve to enforce a 1954 Supreme Court order outlawing racial segregation in the nation’s public schools. After Gov. Orval Faubus sent National Guard troops to block Thomas and the eight other students from entering Central High, President Eisenhower ordered in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Soldiers stood in the school hallways and escorted each of the nine students as they went from classroom to classroom. Talk about progress and evolution in our society?
Each of the Little Rock Nine recently received Congressional Gold Medals shortly after the 40th anniversary of their enrollment. President Clinton presented the medals in 1999 to Thomas, LaNier, Melba Patillo Beals, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Terrence Roberts and Thelma Mothershed Wair.
Clinton lamented Thomas’ departure in a statement he issued Monday, calling him “a true hero, a fine public servant, and profoundly good man.”
As we continue to mourn the loss of our leaders, what kind of impact do you feel this will have on today’s youth and young adults who may or may not be fighting for the same level of equality our forefathers have demanded for decades?
How do we continue to support and carryout their legacies and move forward in our individual communities, neighborhoods and our cities? Will there ever be a day where racism will not exist?
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