Hank ThomasFreedom Rider Elton, FL
Nineteen-year-old Hank Thomas joined the 1961 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Freedom Ride at the last minute after his roommate John Moody dropped out with a bad case of the flu.
"When folks ask me what incident led me to ride," he said years later. "I can't say it was one. When you grow up and face this humiliation every day, there is no one thing. You always felt that way."
Thomas overcame an impoverished childhood in southern Georgia and St. Augustine, FL to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he was active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) affiliated Nonviolent Action Group (NAG).
After participating in the May 4 CORE Freedom Ride, Thomas returned to the Deep South to participate in the May 24 Mississippi Freedom Ride from Montgomery, AL to Jackson, MS, and was jailed at Parchman State Prison Farm.
After being released on bail, he went on to participate in the July 14 New Jersey to Arkansas CORE Freedom Ride. On August 22, 1961 Thomas became the first Freedom Rider to appeal his conviction for breach of peace. He was released on appeal, pending payment of a $2000 bond.
Following the Freedom Rides, Thomas served in the Vietnam War, returning home after being wounded in 1966. In recent years, Thomas has owned and operated several hotel and fast food restaurant franchises in the Atlanta metro region.