EDWARD THOMAS, POLICING PIONEER WHO WORE A BURDEN STOICALLY
When Edward Thomas joined the Houston Police Department in 1948, he could not report for work through the front door.
He could not drive a squad car, eat in the department cafeteria or arrest a white suspect.
Walking his beat, he was once disciplined for talking to a white meter maid.
Officer Thomas, who died on Monday at 95, was the first African-American to build an eminent career with the Houston Police Department, one that endured for 63 years. By the time he retired four years ago, two months shy of his 92nd birthday, he had experienced the full compass of 20th-century race relations.
His days were suffused with the pressure to perform perfectly, lest he give his white supervisors the slightest excuse to fire him — and he could be fired, he knew, for a transgression as small as not wearing a hat.
They were also suffused with the danger he faced in the field, knowing that white colleagues would not come to his aid.
In 2011, when Officer Thomas retired with the rank of senior police officer, he was “the most revered and respected officer within the Houston Police Department,” the organization said in announcing his death, at his home in Houston.
On July 27, two weeks before he died, the department renamed its headquarters in Officer Thomas’s honor.
“He was a pioneering figure, not just in the Houston Police Department but in Southern policing in general, representing an era bookended by Jim Crow and the modern period,” Mitchel P. Roth, the author, with Tom Kennedy, of “Houston Blue,” a 2012 history of the city’s police force, said in a telephone interview. “It’s very rare to find a person of color having as long a career and having had a career with as much respect.”
Officer Thomas, by necessity and temperament so taciturn as to seem enigmatic, never spoke to the news media about his work. But interviews with his associates make it plain that the respect he earned was hard won, over a very long time.
“We all know what America was like in 1948,” Charles A. McClelland Jr., Houston’s police chief, the fourth African-American to hold that post, said by telephone. “If you think about some of the milestones in the civil rights movement, when Rosa Parks would not give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, Mr. Thomas had undergone this disparaging treatment for seven years. When major civil rights legislation was passed in 1964 which made his treatment unlawful in the workplace, he’d been a cop for 16 years.”
On Jan. 12, 1948, the day Officer Thomas joined the force, and for years afterward, he could not attend roll call in the squad room: His attendance was taken in the hall.
He could arrest only black people. Apprehending white suspects, he could merely detain them until a white officer was dispatched to make the arrest.
He patrolled his beat — a half-dozen-mile-wide swath spanning largely black neighborhoods — twice a day, alone, on foot: The department long refused to issue him a squad car.
“He told me,” Chief McClelland said, “that the very first time he was given permission to drive a squad car, when the sergeant gave him the keys, his instructions were: ‘You better make sure that you don’t wreck it, but if you do’ — and he referred to him by the N-word — ‘you better pin your badge to the seat and don’t come back.’ ”
For years to come, to spare the car, and his job along with it, Officer Thomas drove it to his beat, parked it, locked it and, as he had before, pounded the pavement on foot.
For talking to the meter maid, who had asked him to accompany her past a line of wolf-whistling construction workers as she made her rounds, Officer Thomas was fined a day’s pay.
Edward Thomas was born on Sept. 23, 1919, in Keachi, La., near Shreveport. His father, Edward, was a local landowner; his mother, Dora, was a schoolteacher. When Edward was about 9, his father died, and he became the de facto man of the house.
As a young man, he attended what is now Southern University and A&M College, a historically black institution in Baton Rouge, but he was drafted by the Army before graduating. Serving in a segregated unit, he took part in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.
After his discharge, he returned home and embarked on a career as a postal worker. Then one day, while traveling by bus to visit family in California, he picked a stray piece of paper off the floor. The paper was an application for the Houston Police Department. He would graduate as a member of its first organized cadet class.
African-Americans had served with the department since Reconstruction, hired to patrol Houston’s black wards. In the 20th century, three are known to have preceded Officer Thomas on the force. But by the time he graduated from the police academy, he was the department’s only black member.
“The others were driven out of the organization: They were forced to quit,” C. O. Bradford, Houston’s second black police chief and now a member of its City Council, said. “He endured it.”
He endured vitriol not only from his fellow officers but also from the very community he wanted to serve.
“The police were not friendly to the black community during that era, and the black community did not welcome the police, for justifiable reasons,” Councilman Bradford said. “The black community did not want Mr. Thomas because he was the police, and the police did not want Mr. Thomas because he was black.”
Yet it was imperative that he win the trust of that community, not only for its well-being but also for his own.
“He had to depend on the relationship that he had with people in the community to help him if he got into a fight with a suspect or had to arrest a suspect,” Councilman Bradford explained. “He had no one to call: He could not put out an assist-the-officer call. Today, you press a button and all the help comes. But back then it wasn’t like that, and he was by himself.”
Little by little, through an approach that would now be called community policing, Officer Thomas won the residents over. Today, Chief McClelland said, many Houstonians in their 60s and 70s warmly recall his escorting them back to school when they played hooky, rather than arresting them — truancy was then an arrestable offense.
He also earned the esteem of his fellow officers. He did so, colleagues said, partly by keeping his head down and doing his job unimpeachably, precisely as he had in 1948 — including wearing his police hat every day of his working life, long after officers were no longer required to do so.
“At one point I asked him: ‘Why do you wear that hat all the time? We don’t wear hats anymore,’ ” Constable May Walker, a 24-year veteran of Houston’s police force and the author of the 1988 book “The History of Black Police Officers in the Houston Police Department, 1878-1988,” said on Wednesday.
“They told me to wear a hat,” she recalled his replying, “and I’m going to wear my hat.” Constable Walker added, “He never said who ‘they’ were.”
By the late 1960s, Chief McClelland said, Officer Thomas’s deep fealty to the past struck some younger, more politically minded black officers as accommodationist.
“I think that some may not fully appreciate that someone has to be first through the door,” said the chief, who knew Officer Thomas for almost 40 years. “He was the Jackie Robinson of the Houston Police Department.”
Today, 53 percent of the department’s 5,300 officers are members of minority groups. The proportion begins to approach the demographics of Houston as a whole, with a population of more than two million that is now about 70 percent minority, making it one of the most diverse cities in the United States.
“We all owe Mr. Thomas a debt of gratitude,” Chief McClelland said. “Not just black officers and Hispanic officers, but gays, lesbians. None of those things would have been possible if someone had not endured that harsh dramatic treatment.”
Officer Thomas’s marriage to Helen A. Thomas ended in divorce; a son, Edward, died before him. His survivors include a daughter, Edna Kay Thomas-Garner; a sister, Lillie Harrison; two grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
The Houston Police Department has no mandatory retirement age, and had he been physically able, Officer Thomas would gladly have worked there to the end of his life.
“Mr. Thomas, when are you going to retire and draw some of that pension money?” Councilman Bradford recalled hearing colleagues ask.
“This is what I want to do,” he replied.
To the end of his career, however, Officer Thomas did not eat in the department cafeteria. If in his early years he could not set foot there, in his later ones he would not — a small, telling act of free will.
Officer Thomas retired on July 23, 2011. Until then, in his 80s and 90s, he manned the security desk at the staff entrance of Police Headquarters, in downtown Houston.
His was the first face that his colleagues encountered as they passed through the back door — today the designated entrance for all officers — of the building that now bears his name.
JULIAN BOND, FORMER N.A.A.C.P. CHAIRMAN AND CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER
AUG. 16, 2015
Julian Bond, a charismatic figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, a lightning rod of the anti-Vietnam War campaign and a lifelong champion of equal rights, notably as chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., died on Saturday night in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He was 75.
He died after a brief illness, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement Sunday morning. His wife, Pamela Sue Horowitz, said Mr. Bond suffered from vascular disease, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Bond was one of the original leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He was the committee’s communications director for five years and deftly guided the national news media toward stories of violence and discrimination as the committee challenged legal segregation in the South’s public facilities.
He gradually moved from the militancy of the student group to the leadership of the establishmentarian N.A.A.C.P. Along the way, Mr. Bond was a writer, poet, television commentator, lecturer and college teacher, and persistent opponent of the stubborn remnants of white supremacy.
He also served for 20 years in the Georgia General Assembly, mostly in conspicuous isolation from white colleagues who saw him as an interloper and a rabble-rouser.
Mr. Bond’s wit, cool personality and youthful face — he was often called dashing, handsome and urbane — became familiar to millions of television viewers in the 1960s and 1970s. On the strength of his personality and quick intellect, he moved to the center of the civil rights action in Atlanta, the unofficial capital of the movement, at the height of the struggle for racial equality in the early 1960s.
Moving beyond demonstrations, Mr. Bond became a founder, with Morris Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a legal advocacy organization in Montgomery, Ala. Mr. Bond was its president from 1971 to 1979 and remained on its board for the rest of his life.
He was nominated, only somewhat seriously, as a candidate for vice president at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where he was a co-chairman of a racially integrated challenge delegation from Georgia. He declined to pursue a serious candidacy because he was too young to meet the constitutional age requirement, but from that moment on he was a national figure.
When he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, along with seven other black members, furious white members of the House refused to let him take his seat, accusing him of disloyalty. He was already well known because of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s stand against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.
That touched off a national drama that ended in 1966 when the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ordered the State Assembly to seat him, saying it had denied him freedom of speech.
As a lawmaker, he sponsored bills to establish a sickle cell anemia testing program and to provide low-interest home loans to low-income Georgians. He also helped create a majority-black congressional district in Atlanta.
He left the State Senate in 1986 after six terms to run for a seat in the United States House. He lost a bitter contest to his old friend John Lewis, a fellow founder of student committee and its longtime chairman. The two men, for all their earlier closeness in the civil rights movement, represented opposite poles of African-American life in the South: Mr. Lewis was the son of a sharecropper; Mr. Bond was the son of a college president.
On Sunday, Mr. Lewis posted: “We went through a difficult period during our campaign for Congress in 1986, but many years ago we emerged even closer.” In another message, he wrote, “Julian Bond’s leadership and his spirit will be deeply missed.”
During the campaign, the United States attorney’s office began investigating Mr. Bond after allegations surfaced that he had used cocaine. Mr. Bond’s estranged wife, Alice, was said to have told the police confidentially that he was a habitual cocaine abuser. She retracted her accusations after Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta, a friend of the family, telephoned her, leading to speculation that improper political pressure had been applied. She later refused to testify before a grand jury, and neither Mr. Bond nor Mr. Young was indicted.
Horace Julian Bond was born on Jan. 14, 1940, in Nashville, to Horace Mann Bond and the former Julia Washington. The family moved to Pennsylvania five years later, when Mr. Bond’s father became the first African-American president of his alma mater, Lincoln University.
Julian Bond’s great-grandmother Jane Bond was the slave mistress of a Kentucky farmer. Julian’s grandfather James Bond, one of Jane Bond’s sons, was educated at Berea and Oberlin Colleges and became a clergyman. His son Horace Mann Bond expected his own son Julian to follow in his footsteps as an educator, but the young man was attracted instead to journalism and political activism.
At age 12, Julian was sent to the private Quaker-run George School near Philadelphia. It was there that he first encountered racial resentment when he began dating a white girl, incurring the disapproval of white students and the school authorities.
He moved back south at age 17 when his father became dean of education at Atlanta University. At Morehouse College, he plunged into extracurricular activities but paid less attention to his studies. The civil rights movement provided a good excuse to drop out of college in 1961. He returned in the early 1970s to complete his English degree.
Dozens of his friends went to jail during his time with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, but he was arrested only once. In 1960, after word of student sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C., spread across the South, Mr. Bond and a few of his friends at Morehouse organized protests against segregated public facilities in Atlanta. He was arrested when he led a sit-in at the City Hall cafeteria.
During this period, he and some fellow black students had an early experience with racism in the Georgia House of Representatives. They visited there one day and sat in the whites-only visitors’ section. The Capitol police escorted them out.
Mr. Bond devoted most of the 1960s to the protest movement and activist politics, including campaigns to register black voters. Both he and Mr. Lewis left the student committee after its leadership was taken over by black power advocates who forced whites out of the organization.
He prospered on the lecture circuit the rest of his life. He became a regular commentator in print and on television, including as host of “America’s Black Forum,” then the oldest black-owned television program in syndication. His most unusual television appearance was in April 1977, when he hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live.”
In later years, he taught at Harvard, Williams, Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. He was a distinguished scholar in residence at American University in Washington and a professor of history at the University of Virginia, where he was co-director of the oral history project Explorations in Black Leadership.
Mr. Bond published a book of essays titled “A Time to Speak, a Time to Act” in 1972. He wrote poetry and articles for publications as varied as The Nation, Negro Digest and Playboy.
He was made chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. in 1998. He remained active in Democratic Party politics and was a strong critic of the administration of President George W. Bush.
Most of Mr. Bond’s poetry reflected the pained point of view of a repressed minority.
In addition to Ms. Horowitz, his second wife and a former lawyer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, he is survived by three sons, Horace Mann Bond II, Jeffrey and Michael; two daughters, Phyllis Jane Bond McMillan and Julia Louise Bond; a sister, Jane; a brother, James; and eight grandchildren.
In a statement on Sunday, President Obama called Mr. Bond “a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend.”
“Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” Mr. Obama said. “Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
An earlier version of a slide show associated with this article misstated the name of a city in which Julian Bond attended a rally in 2012. It is Freeport, Ill., not Bainport.