Thomas stopped drinking shortly after he took over as chair of the beleaguered EEOC. He made a number of management improvements there, including toughening the agency's approach to enforcement in individual cases. By the end of his tenure, the Washington Post would applaud him for his "quiet but persistent leadership" that increased the number of cases that were processed and filed.
He continued to have conflicts with the Reagan administration, and seems to hold some administration officials, including Brad Reynolds, the head of the civil rights division in the Justice Department, in low regard. He describes being asked to meet with some officials in the White House Mess, and is told how he should be doing certain things at EEOC.
Thomas responds: "There are only two things I have to do: stay black and die."
He would be the administration's second-highest ranking African-American official, but he was critical of the administration's approach to race.
"I found it impossible to get the administration to pay sufficient attention to such matters," Thomas wrote. "As I told a reporter… 'conservatives don't exactly break their necks to tell blacks that they're welcome.'"
His offer to help with Reagan's reelection "met with near total indifference," he wrote. "The president's reelection strategy didn't include the black vote, there was no role for me."
In 1983, he flew to Chicago for a speech to a women's rights organization, Women Employed, and he wrote that he is struck by how "angry they seemed to be about their lot in life." His old consciousness about race and class seems close to the surface, as he wrote: "How could these well-off white women be more bitter than the poor blacks and Hispanics with whom I met regularly at EEOC?"
His brother Myers, who was living in Chicago, met him after the meeting. Thomas wrote that his battles at EEOC and his anxieties about his personal life "drained me of what little energy I had." He was looking forward to a quiet evening with Myers, his wife and their daughter. But Myers instead had heartbreaking news.
"Your daddy died," he told Thomas as he drove.
"You mean C?" Thomas asked, referring to their biological father they called by an initial.
"No. Myers Anderson — the only daddy you ever had," Myers said.
Anderson had suffered a stroke when coming out of the fields of his Georgia farm, Myers said, and he was dead by the time he arrived at the hospital.
It came as a brutal shock to Thomas, and he pummeled himself for not fully reconciling with Anderson. He had visited him in Georgia only the month before, when the two men shared their first and only embrace.
In the book, Thomas wrote of how he "hated myself for having succumbed in college to radical ideologies… that we only came together at the last possible moment, bridging the gulf of mistrust with a single tentative embrace," Thomas wrote. "I would never be able to tell him how right he'd been, or how much I admired or loved him, or that it had been immaturity and false pride that kept me from forgiving him for the harshness with which he had treated Myers and me."
Thomas says it was "one of those moments in your life where you wish you had reconciled totally and had the full benefit of that life and closeness of the person you admired and wanted to be like."
Their embrace, he says, was a "beginning, but it's not nearly enough."