The Great Author and Poet, Hermano Piri Thomas Dies at Age 83

New York, NY — October, 2011

The Hermanos of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. (LUL) regrettably announce that on Monday October 17, 2011 the great author and poet Hermano Piri Thomas passed away. He was born on September 30, 1928 in Harlem, New York City, to a Puerto Rican mother and Cuban father. In 1967 he published a memoir that would become his most popular and controversial work, “Down These Mean Streets.” The memoir, which chronicled his childhood struggles with prejudice, racism, identity and crime, eventually became a staple on high school and college reading lists. It examined themes of race and class in America and showed that everyone is capable of turning their lives around and achieving success. Hermano Piri is also the author of two novels, “Savior, Savior, Hold My Hand” and “Seven Long Times,” and a compilation of short stories, “Stories from El Barrio.” He is also the author of several plays and set his poetry to music.

In 1995, upon review of his work within the Latino community and his commitment to goals in line with that of La Unidad Latina, Piri Thomas was inducted as a distinguished Honorary Hermano of LUL at the fraternity’s National Legislative Convention in Albany, NY. Hermano George Bouldin Gates (Iota, Spr’91) recalls his induction at convention stating that “you could tell [that] what he appreciated most about the gesture of Honorary Hermano was the bond and connection [shared] as well as the support of Latino men. I think that moved him more than being in a fraternity; he was a very humble and sweet man.” As a stalwart supporter of La Fraternidad Hermano Piri often worked with many chapters of LUL and spoke at their engagements. It was this level of commitment, passion and dedicated service to the goals of La Fraternidad which made Hermano Piri such a shining example of what La Unidad Latina stands for. He encouraged a whole generation of young people to be socially conscious and expressive.

Hermano Piri Thomas was born John Peter Thomas in Harlem Hospital, where he was given the Anglo-Saxon name. “They wanted to assimilate me,” he said in an interview in 1995. “Whoever heard of a Puerto Rican named John Peter Thomas?” Piri was the name his mother called him as a child. Hermano Piri Thomas died of complications from pneumonia at his home in El Cerrito, CA. He is survived by his wife, Suzie Dod Thomas, six children, seven grandchildren, three stepchildren, and two step grandchildren.

Tha National Council of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. will be making a generous donation to the Piri Thomas Memorial Fund and will continue to promote the work of a truly inspiring Hermano who influenced the lives of many. “La Unidad Para Siempre Hermano Piri” – Los Hermanos de La Unidad Latina.

The family requests no flowers or gifts. Written sentiments may be sent to or 2503 Edwards Ave. El Cerrito, CA 94530. Tax deductible donations (payable to Social Justice, earmarked for the Piri Thomas Fund) may be made in his name and sent to:

Piri Thomas Memorial Fund
C/O Social Justice/Global Options
PO Box 40601
San Francisco, CA 94140

To date, memorials are being planned for the Bay Area, New York, and Orlando, Florida. Dates to be announced.

For more information, please e-mail:
Suzie Dod Thomas at
or view his website,