When Yvonne Blount, of Freeport, was a young girl, she attended a meeting of veterans in Hempstead with her father, Thomas Blount, who had served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.
There they were approached by a man who thanked Thomas for having saved his life during the war, which surprised Yvonne, because her father had rarely spoken about his service. Ever modest, Thomas shushed his fellow veteran, Yvonne remembered, to avoid making a scene.
In time, Yvonne learned that her father’s heroism extended much further: He was a recipient of the National Defense Medal of Honor for saving the lives of a number of soldiers in Korea.
After the war, Thomas never stopped serving people, leading civil rights marches in Freeport and elsewhere in Nassau County, and for years volunteering to clean up houses and clear snow in the village.
To honor Thomas, who died in 2013, and his legacy, village officials renamed East Dean Street, between Columbus and Frederick avenues, Thomas Louis Blount Street at a ceremony last Friday.
“My father was a kind and humble man who never bragged about his life,” Yvonne said. “We thank the village for this honor.”
“We’re so proud of his accomplishments and that we can honor his legacy here,” said Yvonne’s niece Alanna Troy. “Freeport is our home, and we’re blessed to have this moment.”
“Thomas Blount’s legacy continues to this day with his family,” Mayor Robert Kennedy added, “and as a fellow veteran, I’m proud to thank him for his service to our nation.”
Blount was born in Anniston, Ala., in 1933. When he turned 18, he enlisted in the Air Force and served in Korea. He was honorably discharged in 1956.
As the civil rights movement erupted across the nation, Blount and his family moved to East Dean Street in 1969, and he began working as a glazier, and was one of the first Black employees of the New York City Housing Department. His family said he was instrumental in negotiating between employees and management and avoiding walkouts.
Yvonne said her father took pride in his work and in the civil rights movement, as he worked with the Rev. Al Shaprton’s National Action Network and helped organize marches in the village and across the county.
“Those were values he instilled in me,” Yvonne said. “When I was in college, I joined the marches in Georgia, and we had bottles thrown at us, but my father was proud that I marched.”
Blount was also a dedicated member of the Zion Cathedral, and worked with Bishop Frank O. White to set up the church. When White purchased the land for the church’s parking lot, Blount volunteered to tear down the property himself to make way for the new lot.
His family said he thought of his neighbors first, which is why he volunteered to clean his fellow Freeporters’ houses. Yvonne explained that back in the day, the village fined those who had messy yards, so Blount and other volunteers ran around the village, helping those who could not afford the penalty.
He and the other volunteers never charged their neighbors, and Blount continued his work during the winter by clearing snow. He passed on the responsibility to his son, Steven, who continues to assist elderly Freeporters in the area.
Steven joined the U.S. Marines, and Thomas’s other son, Ronald, signed up for the Army. Thomas’s great-granddaughter Jaidan Hill is a freshman at Freeport High School and a member of the school’s Navy Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps.
“He was a very kind man, and always looking out for other people,” Hill said. “It means a lot that my great-grandfather saved many lives. I think it’s important that he’s being honored, and I’m proud to be following in his legacy.”
The Blount family will donate Thomas’s prized possession, a photo of himself in the Air Force, to the village. Freeport officials said the photo would be displayed prominently at Village Hall, among other historical photos.