Manchester Magazine Fall 2017 - Page 45

MU| A r c h i v e s By 1955, the Kings were married and living in Montgomery, Ala. The Thomases had moved to California where Cecil would work for the University of California, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the AFSC, and Fran would teach in the Berkeley public schools. When a Montgomery seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, the Thomases organized a bus protest caravan all the way to Montgomery to support the watershed 381-day bus boycott. The woman who taught Coretta to play the clarinet and trumpet in high school continued to support Coretta’s musical talents and the cause of civil rights. Fran composed the song “No Crystal Stair,” based on the Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son,” which Coretta performed in a series of Freedom Concerts that raised money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Fran also composed an original piece for Coretta, “My Feet are Tired,” inspired by the Montgomery boycott. before there ever was a civil rights movement,” Ben Bonhorst, her Ph.D. adviser at MSU once said. When Fran became ill, she returned to California to be near one of her sons. She died on Feb. 9, 1999, in Santa Rosa. In many ways, Fran’s life served as a model for Manchester’s Peace Studies Program, the first such undergraduate program in the world, launched by Gladdys Muir in 1948. Frances Smith Thomas received Manchester’s Alumni Honor Award in 1980. By Melinda Lantz ’81 When King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, Fran stayed with Coretta and her four children in Atlanta, helping with correspondence and speeches and providing the family comfort and encouragement. About a year later, Fran experienced her own tragic loss when Cecil was killed in an auto accident. With her two sons grown, Fran created a new life of her own, earning her Ph.D. at Michigan State University. There, she worked for the School of Urban Affairs for 20 years, developing the human rights program for MSU’s Department of Racial and Ethnic Studies. In the summers, Fran returned to Atlanta where she worked at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and served on its board of directors. Fran “was in the civil rights movement Frances Smith ’39 Thomas (opposite page) was an activist, educator and gifted musician. Above, she shakes hands with President A. Blair Helman as she receives her Alumni Honor Award from Manchester in 1980. A rchives Manchester | 45