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Franklin A. Thomas

Foundation executive and lawyer Franklin A. Thomas was born on May 24, 1934 in Brooklyn, New York to James and Viola Thomas. He graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School in 1952, and attended Columbia University, where he played basketball, became the first African American to captain an Ivy League basketball team, and was named the league’s most valuable player in 1955 and 1956. Thomas earned his B.A. degree from Columbia University in 1956 and went on to earn his L.L.B. degree from Columbia Law School in 1963.

After earning his B.A. degree, Thomas joined the U.S. Air Force as a strategic air command navigator, where he served as captain from 1956 to 1960. In 1964, he was admitted to the New York State Bar and began his legal career as an attorney at the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency’s New York office. During the same year, Thomas served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. From 1965 to 1967, he served as deputy police commissioner in charge of legal matters for the New York City Police Department, where he established the Civilian Complaint Review Board. From 1967 to 1977, Thomas served as president and chief executive officer for the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, and was credited with raising approximately $63 million in public and private funds, and serving in the forefront of community redevelopment efforts. In 1977, Thomas resumed his private legal practice, until 1979, when he was selected to serve as the first African American president of the Ford Foundation, where he served until 1996.

Thomas served as the chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Study Commission on U.S. Policy Toward South Africa from 1979 to 1981, and produced the comprehensive, groundbreaking report on apartheid, Time Running Out. He went on to serve as a member of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on South Africa from 1985 to 1987.

Thomas served as chairman of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on South Africa, the Study Commission on United States Policy Toward Southern Africa, and the September 11th Fund. He has also served on the board of directors for the Aluminum Company of America, Avaya, CBS Inc., Cummins Engine Co., Inc., Citicorp/Citibank, and Lucent Technologies. In 2005, Thomas founded the TFF Study Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to development in South Africa in 2005.

Thomas is the recipient of numerous awards, including: The Lyndon Baines Johnson Award for “Contributions to the Betterment of Urban Life,” the John Jay and Alexander Hamilton Awards from Columbia College, and Columbia Law School’s James Kent Medal for distinguished professional achievement. He is also the recipient of Columbia University’s Medal of Excellence. He has been granted honorary degrees from Bank Street College, Columbia University, Fordham University, New School University, Pace University, Pratt University and Yale University. In 2003, Thomas was named one of four “kingmakers” in corporate America by Fortune magazine.

Franklin A. Thomas was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 28, 2017.

Accession Number

A2017.088

Sex

Male

Interview Date

04/26/2017 |and| 06/28/2017

Last Name

Thomas

Maker Category
Middle Name

A.

Schools

Franklin K. Lane High School

Columbia University

J.H.S. 33 Mark Hopkins Junior High School

P.S. 44 Marcus Garvey Elementary School

Columbia Law School

First Name

Franklin

Birth City, State, Country

Brooklyn

HM ID

THO26

Favorite Season

Fall, Summer

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

How Are You?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

5/27/1934

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken And Rice

Short Description

Foundation executive and lawyer Franklin A. Thomas (1934 - ) was the first African American president of the Ford Foundation, after serving as the president and CEO of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

Employment

Ford Foundation

Faucus and Baron

U.S. Air Force

Housing and Home Finance Agency

U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

New York City Police Department

Civilian Complain Review Board

Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas narrates his photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Slating of Franklin A. Thomas' interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his parents' migration to New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers the drum and bugle corps at the Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his childhood activities

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers the gang activity in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his interactions with gangs in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his mother's influence

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls an altercation between his mother and her boarders

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his maternal uncle

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls lessons from his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his experiences at J.H.S. 33 in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his early education

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his high school basketball career

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his summer position at an architectural firm

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his experiences at Columbia University in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his coursework at Columbia University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his challenges at Columbia University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas reflects upon his time at Columbia University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his NAACP activities at Columbia University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his experiences on the basketball team at Columbia University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his perception of racism

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his service in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his role in the Strategic Air Command

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his basketball records at Columbia University

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his mother's emphasis on self-determination

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his older sisters

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his mother's emphasis on education

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his travels with the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls how he became a navigator in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his decision to attend Columbia Law School in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his experiences at Columbia Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls being hired at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers prosecuting a domestic terrorism case, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers prosecuting a domestic terrorism case, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas describes how he became deputy police commissioner of New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers New York City Mayor John Lindsay

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the Civilian Complaint Review Board of the New York City Police Department, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the Civilian Complaint Review Board of the New York City Police Department, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls the corruption in the New York City Police Department

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his relationship with the Harlem Clubhouse

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers Earl G. Graves, Sr.

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the creation of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls becoming president of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls becoming president of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the leaders of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers the Community Home Improvement Program

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls the problems in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his challenges at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the gentrification of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his legacy at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the financial success of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas reflects upon his time at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his relationship with Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his relationship with Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers meeting John Hay Whitney

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation's cable television venture

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his wife, Kate Roosevelt Whitney

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his board memberships

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls how he became the president of the Ford Foundation

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his corporate board memberships

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas reflects upon his experience as an African American in Corporate America

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his tenure on the board of Citibank, N.A.

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his invitation to the board of Citibank, N.A.

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his transition to the Ford Foundation, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his transition to the Ford Foundation, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his tenure at the Ford Foundation, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his tenure at the Ford Foundation, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his successor at the Ford Foundation

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his changes to the Ford Foundation, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his changes to the Ford Foundation, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas lists his charitable board memberships

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Slating of Franklin A. Thomas' interview, session 2

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his basketball teammate, Albert Vann

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his decision to attend Columbia University

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the importance of education

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers the student protests at Columbia University

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls the student protests on South Africa

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the black community at Columbia University

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his mother's lessons about racial discrimination

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers Robert M. Morgenthau

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers the conspiracy to bomb the Statue of Liberty

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about mandatory minimum sentences

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his decision to leave the U.S. attorney's office

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers Police Commissioner Howard R. Leary

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about Robert F. Kennedy's commitment to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his early involvement with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 12 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the rising property values in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls the early leaders of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his start at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the Bedford-Stuyvesant Development and Services Corporation

Tape: 13 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers dissolving the Bedford-Stuyvesant Development and Services Corporation

Tape: 13 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers John Doar

Tape: 13 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers the staff of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 13 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his role on the Knapp Commission

Tape: 13 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the Knapp Commission

Tape: 14 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the history of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 14 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his early interactions with the Ford Foundation

Tape: 14 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the Ford Foundation funding of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 14 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls how he met J. Irwin Miller and Henry Schacht

Tape: 14 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation's architectural investments

Tape: 14 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas reflects upon the success of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Tape: 14 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his family

Tape: 14 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers the development of Continental Cablevision, Inc.

Tape: 14 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his relationship with the Whitney family

Tape: 15 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about John Hay Whitney's philanthropy

Tape: 15 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers meeting Kate Roosevelt Whitney

Tape: 15 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers interviewing for the presidency of the Ford Foundation

Tape: 15 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the Ford Foundation's financial problems

Tape: 15 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his relationship with President James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr.

Tape: 15 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers McGeorge Bundy

Tape: 15 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the leadership of the Ford Foundation, pt. 1

Tape: 15 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the leadership of the Ford Foundations, pt. 2

Tape: 16 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his assessment of the Ford Foundation's operations

Tape: 16 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his changes to the Ford Foundation

Tape: 16 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his interview with The New York Times

Tape: 16 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the Ford Foundation's philanthropic work

Tape: 16 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his assessment of the Ford Foundation's funding efforts

Tape: 16 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his development of the Ford Foundation

Tape: 16 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his relationship with Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.

Tape: 16 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas reflects upon the experiences that led him to the Ford Foundation

Tape: 16 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers Mary Griggs Jordan

Tape: 17 Story: 1 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the 'Time Running Out' report, pt. 1

Tape: 17 Story: 2 - Franklin A. Thomas describes the 'Time Running Out' report, pt. 2

Tape: 17 Story: 3 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers meeting Nelson Mandela

Tape: 17 Story: 4 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk's visit to the United States, pt. 1

Tape: 17 Story: 5 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk's visit to the United States, pt. 2

Tape: 17 Story: 6 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls meeting with F. W. de Klerk upon Nelson Mandela's release

Tape: 17 Story: 7 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers Nelson Mandela's release from prison

Tape: 17 Story: 8 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his involvement with South Africa's government, pt. 1

Tape: 17 Story: 9 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his involvement with South Africa's government, pt. 2

Tape: 17 Story: 10 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his mentorship of South African lawyers

Tape: 17 Story: 11 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his relationship with Nelson Mandela

Tape: 17 Story: 12 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the Constitutional Court of South Africa

Tape: 17 Story: 13 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers Albie Sachs and Arthur Chaskalson

Tape: 17 Story: 14 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about Nelson Mandela's wives

Tape: 17 Story: 15 - Franklin A. Thomas remembers his advice to Nelson Mandela

Tape: 17 Story: 16 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the life of Nelson Mandela

Tape: 17 Story: 17 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about the African National Congress

Tape: 17 Story: 18 - Franklin A. Thomas reflects upon the international reputation of the United States

Tape: 17 Story: 19 - Franklin A. Thomas recalls his chairmanship of the September 11th Fund

Tape: 17 Story: 20 - Franklin A. Thomas talks about his marriage to Kate Roosevelt Whitney

Tape: 17 Story: 21 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his wife, Kate Roosevelt Whitney

Tape: 17 Story: 22 - Franklin A. Thomas reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 17 Story: 23 - Franklin A. Thomas describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 17 Story: 24 - Franklin A. Thomas describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

2$2

DATape

12$16

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
Franklin A. Thomas describes his early involvement with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
Franklin A. Thomas talks about his changes to the Ford Foundation
Transcript
And it's during that period that I get a call from the senator's office, and Earl Graves [HistoryMaker Earl G. Graves, Sr.], who's then working for the senator, must have mentioned my name to him; he had no other--I don't know what other sources there were, but certainly I suspect Earl was among them. And I get a call and they--I go and meet with the, the senator, and he explains what his vision is and what he's assembled up to that point, and that he's trying to work with these different groups in Bedford-Stuyvesant [Brooklyn, New York] and they need someone who can handle all of that and be, at the same time, accessible to the business group. And, for some reason, it kind of strikes me as something that--unplanned on my part, but maybe I ought to try and be helpful. So, I--I think I told you this story--I go to the meeting with the local people, and Elsie Richardson among them, and others who later become great friends, but at that point--I mean the beginning is, "What makes you think you're qualified to do what needs to be done here?" I mean that's the opening wedge for this meeting (laughter). And so we have a lengthy conversation, and I go back to Kennedy [Robert F. Kennedy] and his assembled group and say, "You know, I think it's an interesting idea. I don't think I'm the person that the community would seek to oversee this. And I say that be- not as any knock on me, but because, in my opinion, they have someone in mind who they would like to be in that position--someone they know and have worked with in the past, and who has some credentials," et cetera. So that's my impression from my meeting that I relate to the senator, and he says, "You know I, I know but that--we, we know of that person, and we've done a check there, and it's a well intentioned idea, but he's not the person that can lead this, so would you please not withdraw yourself from this while we search to see if we can find a person of--that's acceptable to both parties?" So, I say, "Okay." I'm as interested in seeing something done well as anyone. So I agree to spend some time with the local folk as they go through looking at what had been done in a, a couple of other cities--where Ed Logue [Edward J. Logue] had worked, and people whom Kennedy had brought into Bedford-Stuyvesant [Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, New York, New York], and I.M. Pei had brought in, and others had been brought in.$$I.M. Pei, who is the architect, right?$$He's the architect, yeah.$$Um-hm.$$And so--anyway, a few months go by; I--I've got my own job I'm working on, but I spend time with them, and they finally double back and say, "Well, you're not our first choice but unless you're willing to do this, it's probably not gonna happen." And the Kennedy people are saying basically the same thing, and that the person the local group seemed more interested in is not someone that the business group thinks can do the job, so I said, "Okay," I would do it for two years to get it started, and so I did. And I spent the next ten years there, and I'm happy to say it's having its fiftieth anniversary upcoming, and some of the same people are happily still there. Most have passed on, but there's another generation there, and yeah, we're all pretty proud of what's happened--yeah. And Al Vann [Albert Vann] still lives there, Gil Scott [Gilbert L. Scott] still lives there; a number of the people that, you know, I grew up with are there and involved with what's going on.$So I held meetings with the staff [of the Ford Foundation, New York, New York] in all the different areas and laid out where we were, where we had been, what had happened in the ensuing ten or twelve years, what trajectory we were on, and what that could mean going forward. So either we're going to fix things while we still have the ability to do that, with the hope that we can reposition it so it can be around in perpetuity. And that means that some who think they have a lifetime arrangement are gonna be disappointed because we're going to trim the staff and, (makes noise). So, anyway, we did all that.$$You did a lot of trimming of staff.$$Yeah.$$This was--it was, I think, what--a quarter of the staff?$$Yeah (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Like over a hundred--it was over a hundred and something positions.$$Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was a lot, it was a lot. And everybody got--I mean they're all disappointed obviously, but everybody got treated as well as you could expect to be treated; you're given three or four years of coverage, but it's the end. So I go to The New York Times, at their invitation--$$After some of this has happened.$$After some of this has happened.$$And this is--this is the--but it took--so it--you're saying within the year of stu- after that year of study this is when you make the decision now?$$Yeah.$$How long does it take to get board alignment? That's a--$$I'd say about three years--to get it all sorted, and then I, I double back to The New York Times, at their invitation, and they, they start by saying to me--I've--never forget (laughter) the conversation. "You know it's, it's been a while since we last spoke." He said, "Oh, I would like to know what's, what's happened, you know, since then," and all that. And so we're--I give them a, a, a rundown, a generalized rundown of what we've done and where we then were financially, and how I saw the future and, you know, their, their response was, "You know, well, you know, it's obvious that place needed to be restructured, (mumbling)." And so I say back to them, "You mean now that I've survived you, what I did was obvious, is that it?" "No, I didn't mean that." "Oh, you guys are just so full of shit, you know--stop it!" You know. But I, I knew the, the then head of the newspaper from my Columbia [Columbia University, New York, New York] days; we'd both been trustees at Columbia, and so I was pretty relaxed with, with--I wasn't angry at all; I'm just saying (laughter), you know, "Now that I've survived you, you tell me what I did was obvious."$$Well, because they had--I remember reading the one article where they were, you know, talking about you being sequestered behind--$$Yeah, yeah.$$--and then--well, I--you let go like some key people at the beginning, but you had to get your team in place, too (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) That's right, that's right. Well, they were--$$And Harold Howe [Harold Howe II] was one of--but--$$They were all angry when they left.

Eleo Pomare

Choreographer and dancer Eleo Pomare was born on October 20 1937 in Santa Marta, Colombia. His father, Tawny Forbes, was the captain of a civilian freighter that was torpedoed near Colón, Panama during World War II. Pomare, at age six, who was with his father during the attack, survived and moved to live with his mother, Mildred Pomare Lee, in Panama. In 1947 Pomare was sent, alone, to New York City to live with an aunt and uncle who cared for him until some years later when his mother also moved to New York. He attended the New Lincoln School in Harlem, and later both P.S. #184 and James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School. At New York’s famed High School of Performing Arts, Pomare was mentored by Verita Pearson, and was exposed to such guest teachers as Uta Hagen and Martha Graham. While still a student, Pomare taught dance to other youth at the Police Athletic League (PAL). Soon, his pupils were performing at churches, schools and nearby Fort Dix. Moving into a building that housed Syvilla Fort’s studio near Town Hall, Pomare was exposed to the Durham technique by Walter Nicks and Talley Beatty. Graduating from the High School of Performing Arts in 1953, Pomare maintained his own dance company as he continued his training with Louis Horst, José Limón, Asadata Dafora, Pearl Reynolds and Curtis James. Pomare also befriended author James Baldwin, whose writing greatly influenced him.

In 1960, Pomare held his first major performance at the 92nd Street YMHA to favorable reviews. The following year he was awarded a John Hay Whitney Fellowship to study dance with Kurt Jooss in Essen, Germany. Pomare left the Jooss School and went on to reestablish the Eleo Pomare Dance Company, based in Amsterdam. He became a sensation in Europe. Using his own approach to choreography and teaching, he created his most celebrated works: Missa Luba, which combined the Catholic Mass with the music and voices of the Congolese Boys’ Choir; Blues for the Jungle, which depicted the history of African Americans from the earliest days of enslavement to the fight for equal rights in the 1960s; and Las Desenamoradas, which was inspired by Garcia Lorca’s play, The House of Bernarda Alba.

Over the years, Pomare received a number of dance fellowships including the aforementioned John Hay Whitney Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972. The Eleo Pomare Dance Company toured North America, Europe, Australia, Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. They also performed in Lagos, Nigeria for FESTAC ’77, the World Festival of African Arts. Some of his featured dancers include Dudley Williams, Loretta Abbott, Al Perryman, Dyane Harvey, Charles Grant, Chuck Davis, Martial Roumain, Carl Paris, Leni Wylliams and Diana Ramos. In 1986, Pomare created Morning Without Sunrise, set to music by Max Roach, in honor of the heroism of Nelson Mandela.

In 1968, Pomare, along with Carole Johnson, Rod Rodgers, Gus Solomon and Pearl Reynolds, formed the Association of Black Choreographers and THE FEET, a black dance magazine. The Eleo Pomare Dance Company celebrated twenty-five years of dance in 1983, and January 7, 1987, was declared Eleo Pomare Day by the borough president of Manhattan, David Dinkins.

Pomare was a highly sought after teacher and choreographer until his death on August 8, 2008, at the age of 70.

Eleo Pomare was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 18, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.147

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/18/2007

Last Name

Pomare

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

P.S. 184

James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Eleo

Birth City, State, Country

Santa Marta

HM ID

POM01

Favorite Season

Summer

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Favorite Quote

I Ain't Doing That.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

10/20/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Colombia

Favorite Food

West Indian Food

Death Date

8/8/2008

Short Description

Choreographer and dancer Eleo Pomare (1937 - 2008 ) founded his own successful company in Amsterdam. He co-founded the Association of Black Choreographers and later THE FLEET, a black dance magazine.

Employment

Eleo Pomare Dance Company

R. H. Macy and Co.

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Eleo Pomare's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes the feud between his maternal and paternal families

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare describes his mother's upbringing in San Andres, Colombia

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare remembers his father's death

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Eleo Pomare describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Eleo Pomare describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Eleo Pomare describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Eleo Pomare recalls how he came to the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare remembers the Carnival in Panama

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare describes Latin American dance and music

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes the impact of African culture on Latin America

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his experiences upon arrival in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare remmebers P.S. 184 in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare describes his uncle's influence on his education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls his relatives in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare remembers the Harlem community

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon the influence of the church on his dance career

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare remembers James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare recalls his woodshop class at James Fenimore Cooper Junior High School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to attend the High School of Performing Arts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare talks about teaching dance in New York City, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare talks about teaching dance in New York City, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls African American dancers from his youth

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes the High School of Performing Arts in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare recalls his teachers at the High School of Performing Arts

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes his volunteer work as a dance teacher in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to leave his family home

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes his relationship with his maternal family

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare remembers seeing a performance by Talley Beatty

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls the African American dancers of his generation

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon the works of Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Eleo Pomare remembers his classmate, Arthur Mitchell

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes the first Eleo Pomare Dance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare remembers his company's first performance in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare remembers obtaining a John Hay Whitney Foundation fellowship

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare describes the Folkwang School of Music, Theatre and Dance in Essen, Germany

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes the European Eleo Pomare Dance Company

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to return to the United States, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare describes his decision to return to the United States, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Missa Luba'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare recalls the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Blues for the Jungle'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare remembers performing "Junkie" from 'Blues for the Jungle'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Las Desenamoradas'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare talks about his choreographic method

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls founding the Association of Black Choreographers, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare recalls founding the Association of Black Choreographers, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon black choreographers

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon the cultural influences in his choreography

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare talks about the Harlem Cultural Council Dancemobile

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare describes his fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare remembers the political climate of the late 1970s

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare recalls the lack of funding for African American dance companies

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Morning Without Sunrise,' pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Eleo Pomare describes his dance piece, 'Morning Without Sunrise,' pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon his dance career

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon his teaching style

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Eleo Pomare recalls the members of the Eleo Pomare Dance Company

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Eleo Pomare remembers performing at the Adelaide Festival in Australia

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Eleo Pomare talks about contemporary dance companies

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Eleo Pomare describes his recent choreographic work

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Eleo Pomare describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Eleo Pomare reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Eleo Pomare talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Eleo Pomare describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

1$4

DATitle
Eleo Pomare reflects upon the influence of the church on his dance career
Eleo Pomare remembers performing "Junkie" from 'Blues for the Jungle'
Transcript
I was close to so many places where I'm, I'm excited by music, the way Carnival, the music affected me, the, the parallel to it was the small churches or the churches in Harlem [New York, New York]. And at the time I didn't realize that I was really studying theater (laughter) by attend, by going to these places. I can remember at the corner, at the corner of a 125th Street [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard] was Daddy Grace Temple [Grace Temple, New York, New York] right there at the corner. And, and I used to visit Prophet Jones' [James F. Jones] small church. And mainly for, for the music, it's the music that attracted me. And a passion that, that is very difficult to define, the, the life, you know, that, that pushed you, (laughter) you know. And I wouldn't say it had anything to do with my beliefs, my [maternal] uncle [Barsabas Anab Pomare] had already influenced me when it came to the purpose of an Almighty and whatnot. But the sincerity, the humanness of what I saw in these places gave me some sense of, of the depth of emotion. It also prepared me for, for what I would make if, if I was an actor, what I would make if I was a painter. And the search would be to, to, to not be involved with the religion but to be involved with the ability to, to, to experience so deeply, so real, you know, to see people who actually feel. And the, the, that, I had, had really a phenomenal interest to me. And, of course, there were the five cents parties the grind sessions and all of that that you were forbidden to go to, red light, blue light parties and things of that nature.$$Yeah, the church experience, I mean, I, sounds a lot like, you ever read, read James Baldwin where he describes a little church where he was a, he was a, a boy pastor in the church and could (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, oh, yes, James--$$He, he could make--$$James was a friend of mine.$$Yeah, okay.$$As a matter of fact, I often tell people that James Baldwin is the reason, had something to do with what, with my sitting where I am right now.$$Okay.$$You know, he--$$Did you meet him before you started dance, you know, dancing professionally, did you?$$Not before.$$Okay.$$See I lived in the village, Greenwich Village [New York, New York]. And at that time there used to be these afternoon soirees for the intellectual or the searching mind and whatnot. And I, I first met James at one of these affairs that was given by someone by the name of Lionel Mitchell who, who was a writer. He's written for the Amsterdam News [New York Amsterdam News], and the, the black newspapers.$I, for instance, when I started doing "Junkie" ['Blues for the Jungle,' Eleo Pomare], Judy Dearing said to me, "You will never be convincing because first of all, you're holding the joint improperly, no one holds a joint like that." You know, where I learned how to do "Junkie"? In back of the Apollo Theater [New York, New York]. It was a place called the Bucket of Blood [ph.] (laughter). A bar, and for several nights John Parks, a whole group of us, would do field work, until I learned from those guys who hung out in back of the Apollo, they got so they would do this to me (gesture) they would say hello. But I learned that you don't nod as if you've had many dance classes. Everything you learned about form and structure have to go out of the window because you're creating a different reality. And this thing was accurate. I can remember the premier of that, it was like all hell broke loose in the theater, (laughter) you know, it's like that (gesture). And when the dancers for the first time used the word it was like brand new, no one, no one, you know, come at you down the aisle going, "Hey, man, you, you wanna buy a joint (makes noise)?" And you realize someone is dying down there in the aisle. That's the theater I am in to. Along with the other craftsman type things that I've done. So what was interesting about that to me is, is the audience. You, you know, it's interesting to see an integrated audience look at it, and watch, it looks like mixture of people where everyone is going like (gesture). And then the middle class blacks, especially the ones out of the, not in the East, the southern middle class, "Why did you bring that dance to our theater? Why did you do this? That is only pushing us back decades. You should have, you, you know." What is pushing you back decades is your phoniness. And so it's, it is, it could have caused me great angst, great pain, you know, but you don't do something you believe and then apologize for it. So that was that.