Pancreatic Cancer Claims 'Little Rock Nine' Member
Pancreatic cancer has claimed the life of one of the ‘Little Rock Nine.’ Jefferson Thomas, 67, is reported by another of the nine Minijean Brown to have died yesterday in Columbus, Ohio.
Thomas along with eight other black students integrated all-white Central High School in 1957.
Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas. It is estimated there will be 42,470 new cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in the United States and 35,240 deaths from the disease this year.
Deaths from pancreatic cancer occur in most people within two years of diagnosis. Statistically, black Americans are more likely to die of the disease than whites. The National Cancer Institute states data from 2001 to 2005 show that blacks had a 32% higher death rate.
According to to a biography posted on the Little Rock Nine Foundation website, Thomas was a student and track athlete at Dunbar Junior High School when he volunteered to integrate Central.
The website describes Thomas as “a quiet, soft spoken, unique, and special person. He had a subtle, infectious sense of humor that served him well throughout his life.”
Thomas graduated from Central High School in May 1960, and entered Wayne State University in Detroit. He later transferred to Los Angeles State College as he family had moved to southern California.
Thomas served in the United States Army from 1966 to 1968, serving as state sergeant with the 9th Infantry Division in South Vietnam.
Thomas married in 1965 and had one child Jefferson, Jr.
Dr. Thomas was a frequent speaker at numerous high schools, colleges and universities throughout the country. According to the LRNF website, “He is especially proud of the life-size sculpture of the Little Rock Nine at the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock, the first in the state honoring living citizens.”