Right: Hank Thomas was 19 years old when he was arrested in 1961 due to the Freedom Rides. Left: Hank Thomas at 73 years old, is now retired and owns two Marriott Hotels in Atlanta, GA

Right: Hank Thomas was 19 years old when he was arrested in 1961 due to the Freedom Rides.
Left: Hank Thomas at 73 years old, is now retired, living the American dream by own several Marriot Hotels.

By , Theroot.com

In 1961, 19-year-old Howard University student Hank Thomas embarked on a journey that would change interstate travel forever and inspire the birth of other movements. Thomas made a quick decision to join the Congress of Racial Equality’s Freedom Rides to travel from Washington, D.C., to the Deep South with several other young African Americans and whites.

The U.S. Supreme Court had struck down racial segregation on interstate buses in 1946 and expanded that decision in 1960 by outlawing segregated waiting rooms, lunch counters and restroom facilities for interstate passengers. However, both rulings were largely ignored in the Deep South. Freedom Riders risked their lives by traveling on buses through the South and, by doing so, challenged the federal government to enforce the law. Freedom Riders were beaten, lynched and arrested for the sake of justice. Thomas’ experience as a Freedom Rider was no exception.

Being a Freedom Rider isn’t Thomas’ only claim to fame, however, and his rebellious spirit isn’t by happenstance. The great-great-great-grandson of an outspoken slave, Thomas also played a part in working toward Freedom Summer’s goal of registering black people to vote in 1964.

Thomas, now retired at 73, owns two Marriott hotels and lives in Atlanta. He recounted to The Root his experiences as a Freedom Rider, the importance of remembering significant events like Freedom Summer and what black people should be doing to build upon progress already made.

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