On this day 136 years ago, Norman Mattoon Thomas was born in Marion, Ohio. Being the first of six kids, Norman was always held to a high standard. Especially in a heavily Presbyterian household, becoming a minister in New York. His religious upbringing led him to become a conscientious objector during the first world war, which directly pushed him working with Socialist Party’s campaigns, due to them having an radical pacifist platform. Norman would then use the skills he learned from his father to run campaigns in New York, which steadily built his profile in the state and the party.
In 1926, the standard bearer for the party Eugene Debs passed away. That lead to a power vacuum within the party as they could not find a new person to carry the torch of the new face of the party. Thomas was the only person to try for the spot, so he did end up getting it, and he began to push the Socialists in a new direction. While upper class people typically hated Socialism, Thomas was able to translate his preaching skills into political speeches and earned Norman and the Socialists a new wave of respect. Particularly due to Thomas differentiating his branch of Socialism than stuff like communism. This led to Thomas to become the Socialist Party’s Nominee six times, one more time than their more famous perennial nominee Eugene Debs. Leading a wave of Democratic Socialism to a more mainstream attention, Thomas would frequently be invited to give his opinions on hot button issues to magazines, talk shows, and even to congress. He even received telegrams from Senator Hubert Humphrey, Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr for his 80th Birthday. Four years later, and aging Thomas would later even attempt to draft MLK for president. He would pass away December 19th that same year.
While Thomas is not remembered as much as Eugene Debs, he still has a place in the history of the American Socialist movement that should not be forgotten.