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Thom Gossom Jr.

College of Liberal Arts alumnus

Actor, author and athlete Thom Gossom Jr.'75, was Auburn football's first African-American walk-on in 1970, and the first African-American athlete to graduate from the university. Gossom shares his story in his memoir, "Walk-On: My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University"; the second edition of the book was released this summer. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Auburn and a Master of Arts in communication from the University of Montevallo. He has worked in theatre, television and film and founded Best Gurl, inc., a company which creates, produces and distributes entertainment and corporate communications programs. Recent work includes appearances in Lifetime TV's "Drop Dead Diva," as Judge Kenneth Shepard on the new CBS drama "Reckless" and as Lt. Moore in the new web series "Partners" which will be released in December. Gossom said he is most proud of the role he played in the Emmy-winning episode of "NYPD Blue," "Lost Israel," in which he starred as the title character Israel, a mute homeless man accused of murdering a young boy. Gossom and his wife joyce gillie gossom will officially kick off the yearlong celebration to commemorate 50 Years of Integration at Auburn University, serving as the keynote speakers at the Women's Philanthropy Board's fall luncheon on Oct. 4.

1. What is your most memorable Auburn experience?

There are too many to single one out. I'll give you my top five: March 18, 1975, my graduation (life motivator); giving the Auburn University commencement address, August 2013 (an honor); serving as master of ceremonies at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine and Auburn Research Park joint announcement on the location of a branch campus at the Auburn Research Park (an Auburn University game-changing moment); serving as master of ceremonies for the kickoff of the $500 million campaign event (big night for Auburn); and 1971-1972 – a tie between the fact that within ten months of my walking onto the football team, Auburn awarded me a full four-year athletic scholarship and Auburn 17-Alabama 16 – being part of "The Amazins," going 10-1 and being ranked no. 5 in the country.

2. You are co-chair of the committee working to plan events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Auburn University's integration. Why is this commemoration important to you personally?

I've always been fascinated with history, and l was fortunate enough to play a small part in Auburn's athletic integration as it unfolded in the late 60s and 70s. So it's an honor for me to be able to publicly thank and appreciate those people who contributed, but never got their names in the newspaper, who came and left because the times were too tough, who cheered for us as we began the social experiment of black athletes playing in the Southeastern Conference and for those whites who welcomed us and made us feel like family when others would not. In addition, the year's upcoming events can be a learning experience about orderly and non-confrontational change. We will look backward over the course of this next year; but, as a university, I believe our major focus should always be to look forward – forward to where we want to go, how we want to get there and who we will be as a global university in our next 50 years.

3. How do you spend your time when you're not acting?

What time? (Ha! Ha!)

I write a lot. I'm finishing a collection of short stories in three books, "A Slice of Life," "Another Slice Of Life" and "The Rest of the Pie."

I consult with business clients, mainly in areas of corporate communication and marketing.

My wife, joyce, and I are pretty involved in our community. I serve as a director on the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council. The TDC is responsible for the upkeep of the beaches and marketing and advertising to attract tourists to the area. joyce serves as executive director of the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators and is in her first full term on the Fort Walton Beach City Council. I answer quite a few phone calls from concerned citizens who want to speak with my wife. It's all fun.

4. You are in the process of producing a film, "Quiet Courage," on James Owens, Auburn's first African-American football player. What inspired you to take on this project?

The story is a fantastic and courageous piece of Auburn history. In the 1960s the two most important cultural happenings in the state of Alabama were integration and college football. James and Auburn knocked down the doors to both when James agreed to become the first African-American athlete to play football at Auburn. Auburn became the first major university in the state of Alabama to sign a black athlete. James is a perfect protagonist for our story. He was, in the words of a teammate, "The right one at the right time." Throw in a Hall of Fame coach, a 10-1 record on a team nicknamed "The Amazins," comments from teammates and former administrators, and James' nephew on the current Auburn University team and a love story evolves between the two parties that has existed now for 44 years.

In 1972 we were 10-1, defeated Alabama 17-16, finished no. 5 in the country and were labeled by Coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan as his "favorite team" of his 25 years as Auburn's head coach.

Still, our careers and the film are about more than football. As the first blacks on the football team, we were there to answer the question posed by an Auburn trustee in the 1960s, "Is the state of Alabama ready for this?"

5. What motivates you to spend so much of your time working in support of Auburn University?

I've always enjoyed and loved being an ambassador for Auburn. Why not?

Sept. 23, 2013