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As of this writing, other biographies of Hutton do not acknowledge her black heritage.Hutton was born Odessa Cowan at her parents' home in Chicago, Illinois on March 13, 1916.When Thomas was a teenager, his parents became more prosperous and the family moved to Long Island.The move was hard on Thomas, who had inherited his father’s dark skin.That year, Odessa’s sister, June, was born at home.
By the time Odessa was three years old, she and her mother were living with her maternal grandmother, and her step-grandfather, a dining car waiter for a railroad.
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.
Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets (New York: Vintage Books, 1967, 1997); Eugene Mohr, “Piri Thomas: Author and Persona,” Caribbean Studies 2 (1980): 61-74.; Ilan Stavans, “Race and Mercy: A Conversation with Piri Thomas,” The Massachusetts Review 37 (1996): 344-354; Telephone Interview with Suzie Dod Thomas by Tisa Anders, June 12, 2012.
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 father lost his job during the Great Depression and worked on public relief.He also befriended African Americans, and began to grapple with the racial status society imposed on him.