Traverse City Record-Eagle


March 13, 2013

Grafton M. Thomas

NORTHPORT — Grafton McCready “Mac” Thomas died March 5 at Northport Highlands under hospice care. Mac was born on Nov. 17, 1915, in Chicago, to Roy Kehl Thomas and Pauline Grafton Thomas. He grew up in Hinsdale, Ill., as the oldest of seven children.

He graduated from Olivet College (Michigan) in 1937, where he was active in basketball and track, setting a mile record for the MIAA and an Olivet mile record that held for 25 years.

At Olivet he met Ruth Adeline Yotter of Angola, Ind., and married in 1940.

After graduating in the middle of the Depression, Mac held several jobs in Chicago before returning to school to obtain teaching credentials. He then took a job teaching history and coaching track at Three Rivers High School in Michigan. On one road trip, he walked his team out of a restaurant when two African-American members were denied service.

In 1942 he volunteered for the war but was medically discharged. In 1943 he was employed with Campbell Soup Company. During this time he formed an interracial group in La Grange, Ill., to address racial discrimination. The war had a profound effect on Mac, leading him to enroll at the University of Chicago Theological Seminary, where he earned a Masters in Divinity. Eventually he would serve six churches as a minister for the United Church of Christ. Mac liked challenges and was drawn to taking on congregations that were struggling.

He worked for social and racial justice in several cities. In Ohio he initiated pulpit exchanges between an urban black congregation and rural white churches. In central Illinois he led a successful movement to thwart a local gambling syndicate which had infiltrated the county court. He served on the Human Relations Commission in Alton and prompted a boycott of a local grocery chain for discriminatory hiring practices. In Chicago he served a church in a decaying neighborhood, where his efforts at community organization were often frustrated. He was also active in opposition to the Daley political machine and the Mafia’s interference in elections.

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