Concerned about Miami's civil rights struggle and holding a strong belief that socio-economic progress would come for blacks when they became more politically involved, Thomas joined the late Charles “Papa” Hadley to form Operation Big Vote, a well-organized political machine that pushed for increased voter registration and voter participation among African Americans in Miami-Dade County.
An outspoken member of the community, Thomas turned to the media to promote his message. He began writing in 1970 with Out of the Dark, a weekly column in The Miami Times in which he shared his opinion on the many topics faced by the black community.
Additionally, he stimulated heated debates during his daily commentaries on WMBM-1490 AM.
Thomas became known to many for the way that he signed off at the end of each radio show: “Freedom, Justice and Equality, one without the other is no good, you can never truly be free if you are not treated as equal, you can never receive true justice if you are not seen as equal. The key to all three is Equality, when man is treated and seen as equal, then and only then will man find true freedom and receive true justice. The Lord is good all the time…This…is Ricky Thomas.”
Thomas’ words in print on air gradually faded as he battled a lengthy illness. He died on July 30 at age 78.Born on Nov. 26, 1932, in Madison, Wisconsin, Thomas was the only child of Albert and Willie Owens. Besides fighting for political equity by working with a range of candidates over the years, Thomas was instrumental in the election of William “Bill” Turner, the first African-American Miami-Dade County School Board member. He served as Turner’s administrative assistant for eight years.
Thomas was also an accomplished musician, who wrote and recorded many songs and played with local greats such as Eric Knight, Sam Harrison, Elliott Flanders, Rudy Ferguson and Charlie Austin. In 1978, he went to work with the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program under the leadership of Maurice Ferre through the city of Miami.
After the 1980 riots in Liberty City, the Metro-Miami Action Plan (MMAP) was established to reduce disparities among white, black and Hispanic residents and promote equal access for all of Miami-Dade. Thomas continued to be involved with MMAP – which is now known as Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust – through 2001 and remained a voice for the black community until he became ill in 2007.
Thomas’ survivors include his wife of 45 years, Patricia Smith Thomas; children, Rory Thomas (Bridgette) of Sanford, Gregory Robinson (Helen), Rodney Robinson, Lori Gullie, Darlene Cordero and Richelle Lumpkin (Ardonnis); 17 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and a host of other relatives.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Range Funeral Home and include a viewing and memorial service at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Mt. Hermon AME Church, 17800 NW 25th Ave., Miami Gardens. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mt. Hermon, to be followed by interment at Dade Memorial Park North, 1301 NW 136th St., Opa-locka.
Photo: Richard “Ricky” Thomas