Franklin A. Thomas, First Black President of Ford Foundation and Key Ally of South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Movement, Dies at 87

Franklin A. Thomas, highly regarded for his work at the Ford Foundation and with the late, legendary leader Nelson Mandela, has died at 87.

Thomas climbed from humble beginnings in Brooklyn to become the first Black American to lead a large-scale philanthropic organization in the United States. He did so as president of the Ford Foundation, the nation’s largest foundation supposedly for much of its history, from 1979 to 1996.

He became an essential ally of the anti-apartheid movement and partnered with Mandela, South Africa’s first Black president. He helped support South Africa’s constitution, advocated for peaceful change, and led the opening of the foundation’s first office in that country.

After that role, Thomas was on the board of the TFF Study Group, a nonprofit institution assisting development in South Africa. He too was chairman of the nonprofit the Sept.11 fund and involved in the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund as manager of its American office.

Thomas, too assisted with setting up the Local Initiative Support Corp., a nonprofit supporter of many neighborhood revitalization drives across America.

A large part of Thomas’s legacy was his work at the Ford Foundation.

During one of its most difficult times, after a 90% depletion in its endowment’s real value during the 1970s, Thomas rescued the foundation from insolvency, Darren Walker, Ford Foundation president, wrote.

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SOURCE: Black Enterprise, Jeffrey McKinney

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