[Black Business Exchange]
Henry Thomas. Photo: www.hankthomasfreedomrider.com
Henry Thomas is a prime example of the Black American success story. A recent Hank Aaron Champion for Justice Honoree, Henry “Hank” James Thomas is man of note as a legendary civil rights activist and entrepreneur.
Thomas was one of the original Freedom Riders, who traveled on Greyhound and Trailways through the South in 1961 to protest racial segregation while performing demonstrations along the way.
Over a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans in Southern states were still a starkly unequal world of disenfranchisement, segregation and various forms of oppression, including race-inspired violence. “Jim Crow” laws at the local and state levels barring them from classrooms and bathrooms, from theaters and train cars as well as juries and legislatures.
Many leaders rose among African Americans during the Civil Rights era. These leaders risked – and sometimes lost – their lives in the name of freedom and equality. The Civil Rights Movement was a long series of events to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans. The movement, and participants, continues to have lasting impact on American society, in its tactics, the increased social and legal acceptance of civil rights.
An all-American hero Thomas is iconic as one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and participant in multiple Freedom Rides. In 1965, Thomas served in the Vietnam War as a medic. He was injured in battle and subsequently received a Purple Heart. He is featured in the National Park Service’s Walk of Fame as well as a McDonald’s Corporation 365Black Awards honoree.
Born in 1941, in Jacksonville, Florida, Thomas grew up “sitting down’ in “Whites only” seats on local buses. Thomas attended Howard University in Washington D.C., where he became an active member of the SNCC. After the Freedom Rides and the Vietnam War, Hank Thomas moved to Atlanta, which he thought was the best place for support and solidarity of Black middle-class. Here, he became an entrepreneur, opening up a laundromat.
Then, Thomas became franchisee of a Burger King and two Dairy Queens, and eventually franchisee of six McDonald’s restaurants. He currently owns four Marriott Hotels, two Fairfield Inns, and two TownePlace Suites operations. He is president of the Hayon Group Inc., which owns three McDonald’s franchises in Atlanta, and is the president of Victoria Hospitality Properties Inc., which runs the four Marriott Hotels.
His is the story of Black achievement by always confronting obstacles head-on and seizing opportunities.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via [email protected]