Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career Choice: Early Influences

BOND: Let me take you back to the time when you’re at Immaculate Conception Seminary and you hear the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination and a white seminarian gloats, “This S.O.B. is finally dead.” And you describe that as the final straw in an interview you did with the San Diego Tribune in 1998. What did that do to — it seems to have you set off the path to the priesthood?

THOMAS: Well, that was my fourth year in the seminary and I was always a little bit — you know, not always, but that year I was beginning to be a little shaky about it, but actually what he said, “That’s good. I hope the SOB dies.” And that wasn’t so much that I was following every move of Dr. King, because there were others at the time — you know, this would be an era when you were beginning to get this sort of beginning of the black power thing, Malcolm X had been around and there’d been some more dissention than people talk about today, but there was as you know some dissention. And — but that wasn’t it. It was more — it was deeper than that, that this was a man of God who was, again, whether you agreed or disagreed, was doing something right. And he was doing something for good. Why would a fellow seminarian wish him dead? And that was the end of it. And I had already been having some difficulties with my vocation, and this was the end.

And at the same time something else was happening — this sort of racial awareness, the fact that as you got older and you thought more deeply, and I’d been talking with a fellow seminarian who was also black and quite a bit older, and the more I thought about it, I thought that the church should’ve been doing more to point out that this is morally wrong and objectionable. And, of course, that was not the case at least as I saw it. It probably was, but I was looking at it from my very limited perspective at that time. So, yes, it was the end of my vocation.