Below is information compiled from the American Dental Association News. Not only was Thomas an extraordinary athlete, he went on to become a dentist.
Charles Thomas was born in West Virginia in 1881, but his family moved to Zanesville, Ohio, when he was 3 years old. In high school, Thomas was a star athlete in baseball, football and track. In 1903 he began college at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio where he played fullback on the football team.
While at Ohio Wesleyan, he met Branch Rickey, the future Brooklyn Dodgers' executive, who was also a two-sport college athlete. When Rickey's playing days ended, he became Ohio Wesleyan's baseball coach and recruited Thomas to replace him as the team's catcher.
At the time, Thomas was Ohio Wesleyan University's only black ballplayer. Several times, Thomas-led teams were refused admission onto their opponents' field because of his skin color.
During a 1903 road trip, the Ohio Wesleyan baseball team traveled to South Bend, Indiana. When Thomas was refused lodging at a hotel, Rickey asked that Thomas be allowed to sleep on a cot in his room.
Later that evening, Rickey found Thomas upset and crying. According to Rickey, Thomas said, "It's my skin. If I could just tear it off, I'd be like everybody else. It's my skin..."
Years later, Rickey told the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber about Thomas. Barber recounted this story in "Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns."
"For 41 years, I have heard that young man crying," Mr. Rickey told Mr. Barber. "Now, I am going to do something about it."
To read more about Charles Thomas and Branch Rickey, check out Black Pioneers of College Baseball.
Originally published 3/3/14.