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Otha Edward Thornton, Jr.: The First African American President of the National Parent Teacher Association

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Otha Edward Thornton, Jr., the first African American President of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), was born in October 1967 in Elberton, Georgia, to Vietnam veteran Otha Edward Thornton, Sr. and Estelle J Thornton. He was the oldest of seven children. Otha Jr. was a member of the Elbert County 4H Club when he was younger. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, after graduating from Elbert County High School in 1985, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in urban studies in 1989.

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While at Morehouse, he also pledged the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He enlisted in the United States Army after graduating and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1999. In 2004, he received his Master of Science in Rhetoric and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan.

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Thornton married Caryn C. Thornton, an educator who attended Spelman College in Atlanta. Candice is their daughter, and Otha is their son.

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Otha Thornton Jr (Twitter)

 

Thornton was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in 2009 for outstanding performance in combat operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. That same year, he received an honorary doctorate from Michigan Technological University. He was honorably discharged from the Army in 2010 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Thornton worked as the Principal Consultant for his company, Thornton Consulting Group, which he founded in 2010. During this time, he was also the Chair of the Georgia Parent Teacher Association (PTA), a position he held until 2011. Thornton was Senior Vice President of Business Development at Capital Commercial Development Group from 2011 to 2012, but in 2012, he was named Senior Analyst/Operations Planner at General Dynamics Information Technology in Hinesville, Georgia.

Otha Thornton was installed as president of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) at the PTA’s annual convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2013. Thornton was the first African American to hold this position of power. Arne Duncan, who served as Education Secretary under President Barack Obama, endorsed him.

As National PTA President, Thornton was responsible for promoting leadership, advocacy, and membership in this 117-year-old organization, which includes 55 state congresses and 26,000 local units in 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Department of Defense Schools in Europe and the Pacific.

 

Otha Thornton Campaign Ad (Atlanta Jewish Times)

 

Thornton ran as a Democrat for Georgia State Superintendent of Schools in 2018, but was defeated by his Republican opponent, Richard Woods, who received 53% of the vote to Thornton’s 47%. Thornton, on the other hand, received 1,814,461 votes in his losing bid. He then went on to earn a doctorate in Executive Leadership from the University of Charleston in Charleston, West Virginia.

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