McLaurin Oral History Interview with Frank P. Thomas Jr.
[This is the second in a series of history projects – interviews with leaders of the community. The subject of this particular interview is Frank P. Thomas Jr., who is the editor and publisher of the Mobile Beacon, a newspaper with a circulation of approximately 6,500. The newspaper is primarily for the black community. Mr. Thomas has been in Mobile with the newspaper since 1954. The interviewer is Melton McLaurin of the University of South Alabama department of history, and the date of the interview is August 4, 1971.]
McLaurin: Mr. Thomas, my first question is concerning your background. I'd like for you to recount how you got interested in newspaper work and your experience with newspaper work particularly work in newspapers that had a circulation primarily in the black community before you came to Mobile in 1954.
Thomas: Mr. McLaurin, my work in and interest in the newspaper field began at the rather tender age of eight when I started selling the Birmingham Herald as a carrier, then as a agent and circulation director for that particular area in Tuscaloosa. From that time on, through elementary and high school, I still continued to do whatever I could to work and to sell newspapers. …[D]uring my high school years I served as a representative and reporter for several weekly black publications. When I graduated from high school I was employed on the Daily Tuscaloosa News as a part-time reporter and as circulation supervisor in the black community. I did this for two years. At the same time I matriculated at Stillman College. In college I edited the [Stillman] which was a college paper. At this time Stillman was only a junior college. Finishing Stillman in 1933 – we journeyed then to Montgomery to finish our education at the Alabama State Teacher's College, as the Alabama State University was known at that time. I worked during that time on the Montgomery World. But before we leave Tuscaloosa I want to get this bit of information, which I think possibly is very necessary. We did start in 1932, or 33 rather, a weekly newspaper, the Tuscaloosa World, which was published by the Scott Syndicate, which today produces and owns the Atlanta Daily World of Atlanta, Georgia. It was this paper that got me my first real experience with the power structure and in turn it caused me to become a target for a lynch mob. Because we felt that some black [dudes] were getting a raw deal and there was no one at that time to speak out for them, our newspaper attempted to do this and, for our efforts, we then became targets for the maddened mark leaders and many of us had to flee for our lives. So, I went to Montgomery [following] this incident. In Montgomery, we matriculated in the college and we worked on a weekly black newspaper, the Montgomery World, which has been suspended. Its publication has been suspended and of course it's just a memory today. [Following] this we journeyed to Birmingham. We worked on the Birmingham World a while. Later we decided that since it was almost impossible to find the position we wanted on a newspaper in the South, we would go into insurance and since we had earned a teaching certificate from our time that we spent in study in school, we taught for one year and then decided we would make a career of [selling] life insurance. We did this until 1940, or 42 rather, at which time we left the insurance field, came back to Mobile, or came to Mobile, and started a weekly paper which lasted for several months. This was the Mobile Weekly Review. We left the Mobile Weekly Review to enlist in the navy during World War II. We served in the navy until we were discharged because of physical disabilities and we returned to Mobile, but at that time we found that our paper had been taken over by the Gulf Informer, a corporation that inherited the Mobile Press Forum Sun, which was the oldest and the first black paper to be published in the state of Alabama. This paper was originally founded in 1892 by A. N. Johnson, who also founded the Johnson-Allen Funeral home. Mr. Rhone who was the publisher of the Gulf Informer in 1954 or 55, died suddenly. His name was I. H. Rhone. Mr. Rhone passed and – of course then there was no one to take over his paper, which did not enjoy a very prosperous existence. So we were able to carry on. At that time, when we made our second entry into Mobile, there were four weekly newspapers. There was one paper published by Mr. Freeman Jones who now teaches journalism at one of the high schools. There was Mr. [Knox] who had a small weekly paper. There was another paper, published by a Mr. [Sneed], which is long since been forgotten and the Gulf Informer.
McLaurin: Mr. Thomas, now are you referring to basically black newspapers. These four--.
Thomas: Black papers, right.
Thomas: Right, right, these were all black papers. I want to say here and I think--
McLaurin: May I inquire if these newspapers came into being as a result of the expanded black population, because of the war industries and so forth and the increase of the black population relating to these industries?
Thomas: Not necessarily so. Most of these papers, with [the] exception of our paper, were older papers, much older papers and these were here from an early date. Most of these papers were maybe thirty, forty years old. So they didn't come about as a result of the war. Our paper possibly was the only one that might of come about as a result of the war expanded economy – due to the war effort. But most of these papers, with the exception of Mr. Jones' paper the Freeman Express, which is published sometimes today, has--have folded and they are only memories now.
McLaurin: Okay, and we've got you in Mobile and working on this paper, the Gulf Informer. Could you tell us something about your early experiences in the field of journalism – in the black community in Mobile during the mid-fifties.
Thomas: When we came into Mobile, we instituted us a new ethics in the field of black journalism. We attempted to first produce a product that would be acceptable to the black reader. We also wanted to have a product that could be used as an advertising medium. To do that it meant that you would have to have a trained staff, you'd have to have the proper facilities with which to produce it. And we attempted to do some of this. Whether we have succeeded or not, it would remain for our critics to say. We do feel that there is much room for improvement but we have done something in that way.
McLaurin: How do you view the black newspaper or how have you seen the black newspaper as a means of expressing…the desires and the aspirations – in short , being the voice of the black community? And I'd like you to answer this question, taking into consideration the amount of coverage that was given to the black community by the existing white newspapers or primarily white newspapers in the city at the time you took over the Gulf Informer?
Thomas: …We did not necessarily take over the Gulf Informer. We started the Mobile Beacon, not the Gulf Informer. We didn't take that over. [W]hen we started the Beacon, the daily newspapers here had to my mind a very negative attitude towards their black readers. And this was most unfortunate. The editorial policy was very bad, and to my mind it still is bad. However,…the news coverage is quite a bit better. At one time the paper would not run pictures of women of color on their society page. In fact, this is rather a new innovation for them. And they have not always used the proper courtesy titles[in] their news stories and events concerning women of color. But of course this is being done today. Much of this can be attributed to two things. The black reader has demanded this, and many of the advertisers in the white press [have] also become aware of the great potentials of the black market…And in order to get this he wants to use the media that is going to be accepted by the black market by the black reader. And of course he is not going to spend advertising dollars in any paper – over any radio station or television station that is hostile to the black community if he knows it.
McLaurin: I'd like to ask you now if you see the black newspaper as a means of bettering the position, or particularly in the past was it a means of bettering the position, of blacks in southern society and did you attempt to use your newspaper as such? And if you did, what campaigns, what programs that you have espoused through your editorial columns…have had the greatest impact on the community of Mobile?
Thomas: If any one familiarizes himself with the history of journalism, he will easily find that John [Rushon], the founder of the first black newspaper, Freedom's Journal, in 1827, began his venture as a protest. Since that day, to the present and maybe – and I do feel to the foreseeable future – the black press will have to continue to be a protest press to a certain degree. We will not – maybe have to run the "scare heads" that we used to do in the thirties--or maybe in the twenties.
McLaurin: What do you mean by the "scare heads"?
Thomas: [W]hen we used to have to fight the Klan and we'd have to – papers with wide national circulation like the Courier and the Defender and the [Afro] when they had to send papers into the South with these stories of lynchings and other racial incidents in the South. This was the only way that many people could become aware of what was happening in the South. One of our staffers now, John L. LeFlore, was a staffer for the Defender and the Courier and he had to be on the scene at many of these lynchings, whether you know this or not. He was on the scene. Mr. LeFlore's life was in danger many times. When we had our trouble in Tuscaloosa, he was one of the people there to write it up. This was the only way – the only means of communication that we had. The white press would not touch many of these things. They'd change it and write it as they saw it, not as it really [was]. And many times the facts would be…concealed or twisted so that truth would never be known. And our paper, the Beacon, has not had to do it exactly in this manner. I don't think any of our papers are having to do it as the papers did back in that day. But each paper now has had to take local issues. For instance, we have continued to harp on voter registration. And it was our paper who continued to fight for the voting rights bill in 1965. We have some proof of that. It was I who met Mr. Katzenbach in the White House, and it was I who really invited him or persuaded him to come and speak to us here. And we have continued to take leadership in this. Mr. LeFlore and other members of our editorial staff have continued to harp on that…and we're doing it today. If you notice today we're still doing this…very same thing. All around we worked on that. That's one thing. Another thing we worked on – some people may say this maybe isn't right, but we feel this way. We feel that black life is as expensive as any other type of life, from any other ethnic group. And what is happening in southern courts is this, especially in Mobile and in many other southern communities. If a white is killed, then, of course, the person who's found guilty is either sentenced to death or they get a life sentence or some long, heavy prison sentence. But when blacks kill each other very little is done about it and we have not liked that. We feel if a black kills another black he should be punished equally – as much as if he had killed a white or if a white had killed another white, if the circumstances warrant it and merit it. And our paper has worked on that and we've editorialized on it and I think we've gotten some results. We've taken the district attorney to task a number of times and they have called our office and have tried to get in our good graces on this thing. And there are various other issues that we have championed and we have not been afraid to editorialize on them. We have also taken to test those people who wanted to – and I hope I'm not stepping on your toes. If I am, it's just one of those things about this downtown building. We're interested in preserving our city and the downtown area of our city, and we feel that this new government building should be built downtown and we have not been ashamed to blast it and to champion this thing.
McLaurin: Mr. Thomas, you've been in newspaper work for a long time in Tuscaloosa and in Mobile and Montgomery, and you've seen a lot of state politicians come and go, and we'd like you to [give us] some of your personal reminisces here of…the attitude of particularly the black press to major politicians on the state level. Three who have perhaps influenced the history of Alabama as much as any three men have in the modern period of the state's history are James Folsom, John Patterson, and George Wallace. Would you comment on each of these men and their relation to the black press – as much as you know of their relation to the black press?
Thomas: As I remember, Governor Folsom was to [our mind] as far we…could tell at least friendly towards the entire black community. He did go so far as to have a conference. I remember going to Montgomery meeting with the other members of the press, black press from all sections of the state. At that time, we had about eight black newspapers in the state and we did have a meeting with him in Montgomery at the capital. The first time and maybe the last time that this has been done, as for as I know. The governor has always – Folsom I mean – has always more or less recognized the black press and even today he will send mm – I do get cards from him, personal letters from him on various issues from time to time. And I have always appreciated that because he came on at a time when he could have been possibly – maybe more of a redneck then – nobody would have blamed him too much at that day, but he was not. To my mind he tried to pull all the people, all segments of the state's population, together, and I certainly will appreciate him. I did appreciate him and still do for what he tried to do. John Patterson, of course, before we leave him, let me say that at that time George Wallace was…one of Patterson's lieutenants, and I understand that he was a speech writer. George as far as I knew at that time was a liberal. And I do know if there was any patronage to be dispensed, that we always had to see George.
McLaurin: You're talking about Mr. Wallace?
Thomas: Yes. Mr. George Wallace.
McLaurin: [During who's--?]
Thomas: During the Folsom administration. And George would be the man who would always, you know, okay it.
McLaurin: Then are you saying that…Mr. Wallace had some control over patronage in the black community?
Thomas: In the Wallace administration, some – some in the Folsom administration, I meant.
McLaurin: He had some control over patronage within the black community?
McLaurin: So he did have ties with the black community as a member of the Folsom [administration]?
Thomas: That's…right. We thought at that time that George Wallace was a fairly liberal person – a fairly decent person at that time. Now as far as John Patterson is concerned, we were quite a bit deceived in Mr. Patterson. We felt that Mr. Patterson – and from looking at the Phenix City story which was portrayed on television – I believe that some black had helped him or maybe saved his life back there after his father was assassinated – and we felt that he would have had a stronger feeling towards blacks but it appeared to me that he became imbued with the feeling that the more he persecuted blacks that the stronger and the more popular he'd grow with certain whites, and this to my mind is what he preceded to do. I do not believe that we've had a governor in modern times – since I've been old enough to remember any thing about Alabama politics – that has been any worse or as bad, and certainly not any worse than Mr. Patterson.
McLaurin: Does that include Mr. Wallace?
Thomas: Oh, yes, definitely so. I would never think Mr. Wallace – Mr. Wallace is a politician. If Mr. Patterson had been doing this merely for [political sake], which we thought he was, I would have forgotten it. But some things Mr. Patterson did has led me to conclude that this was not just for a show or political expediency but that this had some meaning, some personal feeling behind it.
McLaurin: What kind of things?
Thomas: Well, for instance, there is a story that originated in Mobile. There's [the] case of Willie Seals, a black man, [who] I have every reason to believe was framed for rape. Now, of course we can't tell – we get all kinds of calls from various people – but Seals was charged with raping a white woman under some unusual circumstances. Well, I had…a man to call me and say that he was out with this woman and that he beat her up and that she was many things but a [despicable] character and that this man had nothing to do with it. And that he was the one who was guilty. And he wasn't guilty of anything because he was just out with her. And that they should turn Seals loose…. And [I] asked him why wouldn't he go downtown or [why'd he do it]? He said, well, he was a married man and he…didn't want to get that far involved in it. But I asked him, "Why call me?" So, I called the authorities and told them about it. Well of course they said well that's just hearsay and we can't do nothing about it. But anyway, what I'm saying – had it not been for the…Herculean efforts of John LeFlore then Seals would be a memory today. Patterson tried every way he could to see that this young man was executed. I've never seen a governor go through all extremes to try to execute a man. But to my mind, Patterson pulled out every stop to try to give that boy the chair…. John had to call all the time trying to get – he and attorney [Conlin] in Montgomery – to try to get a stay of execution. He had to call…Justice Black… and everybody else to [get a] stay [of] execution so he could get more evidence in. And of course, the boy was finally cleared and at least he's free. They dropped all the charges against him after he stayed there ten years. And I feel that…Patterson was definitely going to do it. I do not believe that George Wallace would have done this under any circumstances. This is my personal belief, now I don't know. Now as far George Wallace is concerned, I'll say – he said in 1960 – was it 64 or 63, 62 – when was the university – no, when the university was integrated – when Vivian Malone went in. Was it 1963?
Thomas: He said segregation today, segregation now, segregation forever. But I say with George Wallace it's politics today, politics now, politics forever. I feel that's George Wallace – maybe I'm wrong. But I feel this is the way George is. I do not think he's a racist of that type. I mean – do not misunderstand me. I'm – I’m not for voting for him. I didn't vote for him. I voted against him. I'll continue to do this. But I do not feel he's a racist of the type… of the type of Patterson. I feel he's a much better man.
McLaurin: What about the attitudes in the black community towards Senator Hill and Senator Sparkman?
Thomas: Neither one have been overly brilliant. Sparkman has – and Hill both have helped the black people through – Hill through the Hill-Burton fund – law in that they built hospitals, which have helped everybody. But as far as them bending over backwards to help their black constituents, which constitute I believe about 33 1/3 percent of a total in Alabama, I would say that neither one should deserve too much support. That's my idea on that.
McLaurin: Mr. Thomas, as editor of a – the major black newspaper in this region, you have since 1954 observed the local political scene rather closely. I wonder if you would comment on local politics since , particularly any outstanding issues, and also any outstanding personalities that the black community has reacted to – either pro or con.
Thomas: Most black people feel that ex-commissioner Joseph Langan has done more to help them any other individual city leader. I share this opinion. I think he has done more than any individual leader. There are some others that possibly have the ability that Mr. Langan has, and are as capable as Mr. Langan. Maybe they haven't had the opportunity to demonstrate it as he has. I do feel that the late Charlie Trimmier did become interested in the well being of his black constituents. And I think he was going to try to do as much he could to help them. Of course, he came in under rather adverse circumstances and it was rather hard and rather difficult. In fact, it was well along almost until his office – until he was out of office before many blacks realized he that he was in their corner. And when they realized this, I think it was too late. Today, I believe that many blacks feel that ex-commissioner Author Outlaw has been fair. And is capable of doing a good job for them. I think that Mr. Outlaw, although he had not had the rapport that Mr. Langan has, but at the same time I think they realize that he is fair. And most blacks feel that they do not want one who is just going to take their side at the expense of other ethnic groups. They only want one to be fair and to give them what they deserve. And this is it.
McLaurin: Mr. Thomas, after commenting on some of the leading white politicians in Mobile, I'd like you to comment if you would on some black politicians. There have been several people to run for office in Mobile, several black people, all of whom have been defeated. I think in the mid-sixties Clarence Montgomery ran for the state legislature, if I'm not mistaken. And he, I think, made it into the run-off and was then defeated somewhat later in 1968 or 69. It must have been 1969. Mr. Montgomery again ran along with Mr. Charles Bell. Both of them seeking legislative seats – neither accomplished their goal. And then this past year Ms. Jacqueline Jacobs ran for the school board and although she did not win she did get into a run-off situation. I'd like for you to say something about your views on blacks entering politics in Mobile, their chances for success in the future, and their reasons for failure in the past.
Thomas: If I'm correct in interpreting the latest census report on the population breakdown in Mobile, then blacks control about thirty-nine point plus I believe of the total population in the greater Mobile area, which include Mobile County. And Prichard of course, the portion of blacks is much larger. Now, I have been somewhat discouraged because of this. Montgomery, I felt, deserved the election to the legislature. I think he's very capable. Today he is an assistant to the tax accessor or at least I'd rather say he works in the tax accessors' office. He has a – his own civil service. He does have a very decent dignified position with the tax accessors. I feel that he could have made us a very good representative there. Mr. Montgomery has done so much to arouse the conscience of the black people in the matter of becoming first class citizens, this matter of registering and voting. He's been right there in the forefront of this fight. And I do feel that he should have had some reward on this. And not because he's done this, but I do think that he has all the capabilities of making us a very good state legislator. And I was very much disappointed in that. Ah, Ms.--
McLaurin: [Mr. Thomas], were you disappointed in that you did not get considerable white support?
Thomas: Well, I was more or less concerned that he didn't get more black support. Blacks did not go out and support him financially as they should have or they didn't go to the poles. They were looking for all kinds of petty excuses. And this is most unfortunate because Mr. Montgomery had spent so much of his time and his effort and his meager earnings to try to help them. And not only did he help them as for registering and voting is concerned but he also looked out for job opportunities. And many people today are working in various good positions as a result of Mr. Montgomery's efforts. And these things he did not have to do. He did it on a volunteer basis.
Ms. Jacobs, who was very well qualified, educationally and every other way for the position on school board, and yet she was not supported. And of course she waged a very good race. It was conducted in a rather laudable manner. And I can't conceive of a black community not supporting her. And meanwhile I'm beginning to wonder if a white Mobile wants to do what's right. In the legislature – all ten of the representatives and the three senators – all white, and yet 40 percent of the – approximately 40 percent of the total population are black. So then we are being taxed without representation. And I feel this is wrong. It's constitutionally wrong. It's morally wrong. And it's wrong in every way. So, I do feel that whites should be concerned and should do something about it. The same thing should be done on the school board. I think that some black should be elected or appointed to the school board if this is possible. It's done in other communities. And I feel that Mobile must do the same thing if we are going to have the harmonious relationship that we need in this community.
McLaurin: Would the Beacon then encourage – and has the Beacon encouraged blacks to become actively involved in the political process even to the point of making races for local political positions?
Thomas: We certainly have. We feel that everyone has a right to run. Of course, what we've done – we just don't go out and just say everybody here run because we try to feel that those people who run are at least qualified. While we don't just say you can't run. We can't do that. We're not going to do it. But, we at least push those people that are best qualified to run. This is what we try to do. And we encourage everybody. We're encouraging people to get in the race at Prichard. We're encouraging people to get in all races. Next year whenever the Mobile municipal elections come up, we certainly hope that there will be some blacks running for some of these positions. We think it should be and we think that the city should welcome and should elect and support some black who is qualified for one of these positions. It would only be fair.
McLaurin: [I] understand that in both the Scottsboro case, particularly the Tuscaloosa case that you've mentioned previously, when you got into trouble for, or evidently the paper got in trouble, for certain editorials stances that the International Labor Defense Fund, which was a communist fund organization in the thirties [1930s] and an organization [that] did attract the interest of many blacks as being some form of salvation, that you had some dealings with this organization. And we'd like you to just tell us something about your experiences in Tuscaloosa, 1930 to 33, if you would, and with your experience with the communist movement among particular blacks in that region.
Thomas: At this time, when the cards seemed to be stacked against any type of black civil rights, the only organization that we had at that time that would do anything in the field of civil rights was the NAACP. And its efforts in most of the southern states, especially in Alabama, were rather feeble. When the Scottsboro case broke, of course, the ILD attorneys came into the forefront and they received quite a bit of publicity. Many blacks rushed to embrace them because they felt this was manna from heaven. At last some one had come in to save them. In Russia at that time, Revolutionary Russia I should say, many protest meetings were held. And of course, the papers picked up on this and many blacks were proud of this. So the communists in the Scottsboro case and in the case at Tuscaloosa which resulted in several lynchings of blacks – many prominent citizens in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham were fooled by the communists. And at that time the Communist party did not have to go behind closed doors or go underground. They could solicit people publicly. And many people thought it was a popular thing to belong to the communist party. And this was true all over. And no one said anything. Of course, America you remember at that time was suffering with depression too. And many, many Americans were very dissatisfied and I feel that they probably were not too far away from having some type of solutions themselves. But blacks thought that the communists were their friends. And many of them were fooled into thinking this and they embraced the Communist party on a limited basis. Later on they found that they just were being used. That the Communists were not sincerely interested in a black liberation movement or trying to help improve their status. But they were using this as a [matter] of propaganda to carry on their on work. Most older blacks realized this and I think most of them have – were burned then and they have stayed away from Communist-type organizations.
McLaurin: Mr. Thomas, the 1960s saw tremendous changes in the field of civil rights. It saw the introduction of numerous groups into civil rights activity, and there was nationwide resentment or some qualms that [were] expressed on the part of the older, more stable civil rights groups such as the NAACP. And I wonder if you care to comment on that situation in general and as it applied to the civil rights front here in Mobile County?
Thomas: The same situations that affected the nation in general also finally came down to Mobile. While its affect in Mobile was somewhat limited and not nearly as marked as that in some other areas, the affect was still felt here. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the NAACP as we shall call it, has always been for many years the old standby, the blanket organization for black people. This organization, although criticized by some of the younger and more militant activists, has always been sure of its grounds because it [has] always had a legal basis for its stand on anything. And of course, it [has] taken many years sometimes to get a decision. And many of the younger people have become impatient and said well, why wait to go around – go through court for this. Let's do it now. Because what the establishment has done is wrong. So we're not going to wait to go through court. We're going to change it ourselves. And the NAACP in many instances has advised against it. However, I will say that in the NAACP we have as many militant people and many militant minds as we have any where in any of the other groups and as many determined minds. But, they have always tried to be right so that whatever they did, they would not have to retract anything and they'd always be sure of what was done was in the right way. One thing that caused some of the organizations to grow, especially in Alabama, was the fact that under the influence and as a result of the work of the honorable John Patterson, who was then attorney general, the NAACP was [enjoined] from operating in the state of Alabama. And it took them several years to dissolve this injunction. As a result of that other civil rights organizations gained a slight foothold in Alabama. And these organizations have continued to function – some of them. In Mobile here, today I would say that the Mobile NAACP and the Prichard NAACP are still your leading civil rights organizations. You have had one organization I must mention – the Neighborhood Organized Workers, which is not as active now as it was a few months ago. And this organization was affiliated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The organization founded by the late Martin Luther King. The Neighborhood Organized Workers did many things that were commendable in the city. And I feel that as a result of their being here, that many things were accomplished. But as result of the manner in which some things were done and as result of the tone and it seems the attitude of some of the members, the organization came in for much unwarranted criticism. Many people pointed to to the NOW group as being responsible for arson, or all types of disorders. These things have never been prove[n]. And I feel that they cannot be prove[n] because the people, the young men in this organization, never did commit them. I think that these men, although they are not as active today as they once were, did do many things to help the people in Mobile.
McLaurin: Can I ask you specifically what the attitudes of local leaders in the black community were towards Martin Luther King and the SCLC?
Thomas: Many black people welcomed Martin Luther King. There were few who didn't know, I feel, him and who didn't welcome him. But I think most of the people in the black community welcomed Martin Luther King. And I think most of them would support him.
McLaurin: As a newspaper editor and one familiar with the city of Mobile, what institutions would you see within the white society basically, most likely to promote better race relations in this city? Would it be the churches? Would it be the school system? Protestant churches or Catholic churches or school systems, the city commissioners, or just what, the financial community – banking or real estate or whatever. What institutions do you see that you would look for some changes and some progress in within the city? Or do you see any at all?
Thomas: That's a loaded question.
[Laughter in background -- then silence]
Thomas: There may be several institutions who will have to help in shaping a different attitude and changing the picture of the community. I don't believe any one particular group of institutions can be responsible. The churches should do something. I think they are doing something. Most of the Catholic churches I feel are helping to change to some degree the sentiment in the community. I feel some of the Protestant churches are helping to change the picture. If the school board continues with the attitude that it has exhibited in the last month or two, I think that maybe it can do something about it. And I would like to say that the Act Educational Service, or Educational Program I believe is correct, has done something in that it has attempted to work with both whites and blacks and to get them to understand the problems of each other, each ethnic group. And this is what should be done and the only way I feel that the community can understand the whole problem – the total problems of the community. If more institutions, and of course the business and the financial segment of the community must understand and must lend a hand to help those institutions that it feels that are trying to do from all ethnic groups that are worthy. And I think this will do much to improve the relations in the community. Plus the fact that the news media – and I do think that they are some segments of the news media that are doing all possible to try to help. I think that many of the electronic media are trying to do what they can. I think that some of the printed media in the community are trying to help. And if all would realize this and refrain from printing nasty editorials and being biased, I believe that much can be accomplished.
McLaurin: What do you see as the role of the Mobile Beacon in the foreseeable future – say the next four or five years? Do you plan to do anything differently than you're doing now or to plug away at problems still in existence? Just what do you see as a role? Broadening the base of the paper perhaps or remaining primarily a black paper for the next decade? Would you care to comment on that?
Thomas: We have already made plans to broaden our base of operations. We've integrated our staff and we no longer just restrict our news to one ethnic group. We try to print news items of all segments. Unfortunately we're limited financially in doing what we'd like to do. But we do not hesitate to run news items about anyone. And we welcome the participation of everybody in our news column. We don't try to restrict it to just any one group, any one segment of the population.
McLaurin: Mr. Thomas, you are a man [who's] achieved some prominence in the black community here in Mobile. And I wonder if you would care to give us something of your background, something about the area you grew up in, the kind of family, the education you received and so forth. And what factors do you think were most influential in helping you to reach the position that you now hold within the community?
Thomas: I am the only son of – well, the only child of a, -- well , my father was [a] fireman for the GM&O Railroad. It was the M&O Railroad then – Mobile and Ohio. My mother was the daughter of ex-slaves who settled in Tuscaloosa. My maternal grandmother was from Virginia. My grandfather of course was from West Alabama. My father of course was from Barber County, the home of George Wallace, Clayton, Alabama. Both had a fairly good education but they insisted that I go to school, which I did. As I said, I finished the public schools in Tuscaloosa. Then I went to Stillman for two years. Then I went to Alabama State. I didn't get a degree at Alabama State because it was all in education and I didn't want to teach. I wanted to be a journalist. And although I was born under the shadow of the University of Alabama, my complexion was a little too dusky, and I couldn't go out there. So, that's – I mean then I went there to Alabama State. And of course, that's as much as I got there. Later when the GI Bill was passed, I did go to Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.
[End of tape.]