Author and activist Piri Thomas became one of the first Americans of Puerto Rican descent to win literary acclaim when he published his 1967 memoir.
Born John Thomas to Cuban and Puerto Rican parents on September 30, 1928 in Harlem, Thomas spent the first years of his life in extreme poverty.
His Long Island schoolmates regarded him as black and harassed him for dating white girls.
He would later recall being forced to give up his seat in the front when their bus crossed the Mason Dixon line at the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.Thomas spent seven years in prison during the 1950s after he nearly killed an off-duty police officer during a botched nightclub robbery.
However, he grew increasingly skeptical of organized religion and of the sponsoring group that did not credit him for his effective work.In 1967 a grant from the Rabinowitz Foundation helped Thomas publish his memoir.