Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Education, Support of Business Crucial, Civil Rights Pioneer Says; Henry James Thomas Speaks in St. Augustine at Flagler College

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Education, Support of Business Crucial, Civil Rights Pioneer Says; Henry James Thomas Speaks in St. Augustine at Flagler College

Article excerpt

Byline: PETER GUINTA, The St. Augustine Record

Embracing education, combined with creating and supporting black-owned small businesses, are two key ways African-Americans can succeed, Henry James "Hank" Thomas said Sunday.

Thomas, a St. Augustine native who grew up on Palmo Street and now lives in Atlanta, spoke at Flagler College during a "Celebration of Red Tea" in honor of R.B. Hayling, one of the city's civil rights heroes of 1964.

"We were the children of summer," Thomas said. "We sparked a change in America. It was a magnificent time to be young, gifted and black."

The event Sunday was sponsored by the Civil Rights Committee of St. Augustine. Committee chair Gerald Eubanks grew up near Thomas and introduced him by saying Thomas "had the courage to stand up and make a difference in his community."

According to The Children, a book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Halberstam, Thomas left St. Augustine to attend Howard University and found himself hanging out with civil rights activists. He liked their style and joined the movement.

Thomas was arrested 18 times and served time in a harsh Mississippi prison for his civil rights activities, according to Eubanks.

In 1961, Thomas was a passenger on a Greyhound Bus that was bombed and burned during a Freedom Ride in Anniston, Ala.

After that, he noticed that he was draft eligible, so he joined the Army and volunteered to become a medic. Assigned to an airborne unit, he was sent to Vietnam in 1965 and wounded in combat, the book said. He came home, moved to Atlanta, opened a chain of coin laundries, then bought a Burger King.

He learned that a manager of McDonald's restaurants made more money, so he sold the Burger King and bought a McDonald's.

He worked hard and eventually owned seven restaurants. He was a millionaire by the 1990s.

Eubanks said, "What's most important about him is that he is an advocate for young people."

Thomas said he returned to St. …

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