Before Buck Jenkins and Alton Byrd, Jim McMillian and Dave Newmark, before the Ivy League existed, Frank Thomas was a dominant force that put Columbia Basketball on the map.
Coming to Morningside Heights from Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn, Thomas turned down several basketball scholarship offers to attend Columbia on an academic scholarship.
At six feet, four inches, Thomas played center and starred for head coach Lou Rossini’s teams of the mid-50s, cleaning the glass like no other Lion has ever done. He finished his Columbia career as the single-season and career rebounding record holder.
Thomas teamed with the great Chet Forte on the 1955 and 1956 teams that directly preceded the beginning of the Ivy League. Thomas was captain of the 1956 team that posted a 15-9 record, earning the Raymond J. Fullerton award as the Lions’ most valuable player that season.
Thomas was the first African-American to captain an Ivy League basketball team and became involved with Columbia’s NAACP organization to help increase admissions of African-Americans at the University.
After graduating from Columbia College in 1956, Thomas earned a law degree from Columbia in 1963 after serving four years as a navigator in the United States Air Force.
Thomas continued to serve others upon receiving his law degree. From 1967-77, he was the President and CEO of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in his native Brooklyn. In 1979, he was elected President of the Ford Foundation, taking the reins of the world’s largest charitable foundation.
To this day, Thomas continues to serve and assist the New York City community. From 2001-06, he was chair of the September 11th Fund, created by the New York City Community Trust and the United Way of New York City. The Fund assisted victims, their families and affected communities rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.