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Home | CivicMakers, BusinessMakers | Henry "Hank" Thomas
Color: Brown
Food: Black eyed oeas and rice, chicken
Quote: I'll Be Doggone.
Season: Autumn
Vacation Destination: Jamaica
Jacksonville, Florida United States
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 10/2/2016

Civil rights activist and hospitality entrepreneur Henry “Hank” Thomas was born on August 29, 1941 in Jacksonville, Florida to Tina R. Heggs and James Cobb. Thomas graduated from Richard J. Murray High School in St. Augustine, Florida in 1959. He then received a scholarship to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. At Howard, Thomas participated in lunch counter sit-ins and was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In May of 1961, Thomas and the other Freedom Riders began their bus trip meant to spur the federal government to uphold its ban on segregation in interstate commerce travel. Thomas was first arrested in Winnsboro, South Carolina and survived firebombing and a brutal assault in Anniston, Alabama at the hands of a mob. Arriving in Jackson, Mississippi, Thomas and the other Freedom Riders were arrested and convicted of breaching the peace. Upon his release from Parchman State Prison Farm, Thomas was the first Freedom Rider to appeal his conviction. He was arrested twenty-two times over the course of his civil rights activism.

In 1965, Thomas began a tour in Vietnam as a U.S. Army Medic, and was awarded the Purple Heart for his service. After his tour ended in 1966, Thomas moved to Atlanta, Georgia became a firefighter for the Atlanta Fire Department. He and a fellow firefighter began their own business, purchasing and operating a laundromat. After selling his share of the laundry, Thomas acquired, first, a Dairy Queen franchise, and then a Burger King franchise, before becoming the franchisee of six McDonald’s restaurants. Thomas owned four Marriott Hotels, two Fairfield Inns, and two TownePlace Suites. He was the president of Victoria Hospitality Properties, Inc. and vice-president of Hayon, Inc., which owns and operates McDonald’s in the Atlanta area. In 1993, Thomas was one of three U.S. veterans to travel to Vietnam for a reconciliation meeting with North Vietnamese soldiers.

Thomas received numerous awards for his civil rights commitments and his business achievements. In 2010, he was inducted into the Atlanta Business League Men of Influence Hall of Fame and received the 365black award given by McDonald’s Inc. In 2011, he was inducted into the International Civil Rights “Walk of Fame.” He was a lifetime member of the NAACP and was a member of the board of trustees for Morehouse School of Medicine.

Thomas and his wife, Yvonne Thomas, live in Stone Mountain, Georgia. They have two children and four grandchildren.

Henry “Hank” Thomas was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 1, 2016.

Speaker Bureau Notes: