Jefferson A. Thomas was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and attended the all-Black public schools, as did his seven older brothers and sisters. Because of the US Supreme Court’s ban on public school segregation (Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, May 17, 1954), Thomas volunteered to desegregate the all-White Central High School along with a group of eight other Black students, now known as the “Little Rock Nine”. (See "Central High School Crisis" Sep ’57 to Jun ’60).
Thomas was a sophomore when he entered Little Rock Central High School on September 25, 1957.
Thomas graduated from Central High School, May 1960, and entered Wayne State University, Detroit. In mid-1961, Thomas relocated to Los Angeles, California. He served as Treasurer of the NAACP Youth Council and State President of the Progressive Baptist Youth Convention. He attended Los Angeles State College, joined the Student Government, elected President of the Associated Engineers and obtained a Bachelor Degree of Business Administration. Thomas served his country as an Infantry Squad Leader in South Viet Nam (1967).
Thomas narrated the United States Information Agency's 1964 film Nine from Little Rock. In the film Thomas said, "If Little Rock taught us nothing more, it taught us that problems can make us better. Much better." The goal of this government propaganda film, in the context of the Cold War, was to show countries concerned about American racism the supposed progress the United States had made with respect to civil rights. It achieved this goal at least in part as the film received wide acclaim (including an Academy Award) and was distributed to 97 countries.
Thomas resides in Columbus, Ohio. He served as a volunteer mentor in the Village to Child Program co-sponsored by Ohio Dominican University, where he received his Honorary Degree, “Doctor of Humane Letters”, on May 13, 2001, for his life-long efforts in human rights and equality advancement.
Thomas is a frequent speaker at numerous high schools, colleges and universities throughout the country, and he is an eager mentor to young people. He is the recipient of numerous awards from local and federal governmental agencies. These awards include the Congressional Gold Medal, 1999, the United States’s longest-running tradition of honor, for helping make democracy work. Also, the State of Arkansas has honored the Little Rock Nine (Aug 2005) with statues of their likeness on the Capital grounds.
After over twenty-seven years as a civil servant, Thomas retired on September 30, 2004, from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service - Columbus, Ohio. He continues to serve as a mentor and serves on the Board of Directors for the City of Refuge Learning Academy at the First Church of God.