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Franklin A. Thomas, revolutionary president of the Ford Foundation, dies at 87


Mr. Thomas encouraged engagement in anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa, and Ford was among the first global nonprofits to open an office there. In 1993, he persuaded Nelson Mandela, a personal friend, and FW de Klerk, the country’s last apartheid-era president (who died last month), to meet with President Bill Clinton in Philadelphia.

He left the foundation in 1996 – largely to focus his work on South Africa, but also because he had managed to achieve everything he pledged to do when he took over. , and more.

When asked once if his mother had ever dreamed that he would become president of the Ford Foundation, he replied, “She wouldn’t have set her sights so low.”

Franklin Augustine Thomas was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant on May 27, 1934. Although he grew up in a close-knit immigrant family from Barbados, the neighborhood was suffering, crime was on the rise, and good jobs were hard to find.

Her father, James, was a night porter and laborer who died when Franklin was 11. Her mother, Viola (Atherley) Thomas, worked as a waitress and housekeeper. During World War II, she went to night school so that she could become a machinist and earn more money to support her family.

“I grew up in a family that just assumed you were smart and capable; two, that you were going to work hard; and third, the combination of these meant anything was possible, ”Mr. Thomas said in a 1982 interview with The New York Times.

But he also saw his mother grapple with a legal and political system that seemed to care little for a working-class immigrant of color like her. At one point, a real estate agent tried to get him to cheat a down payment on a brownstone; although she eventually got her money back, her struggle left a lasting impression on her son.


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