Larry Thornton

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Larry Thornton

Larry D. Thornton Sr (born October 2, 1955 in Montgomery, Montgomery County) is a McDonald's franchisee and artist, a board member of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United, and a former advertising manager and art teacher.

Thornton was part of the first integrated class at Montgomery's Goodwyn Middle School in 1967. He struggled as one of only six black students at Robert E. Lee High School, where his main interest was art. He was encouraged, however, by his English teacher, Miss Nichols, to apply to college. He enrolled at Alexander City State Junior College, and later earned his bachelor of science in commercial art at Alabama State University.

Thornton taught art at Vestavia Hills High School for four years. He was let go due to staffing cutbacks and lived as a freelance artist and sign-painter for a while, until, with a reference from the father of a former student, he landed a $5 an hour job in advertising for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United in 1979. Within four months, Thornton was promoted to advertising manager and held that position until 2003, while also earning a seat on the company's board of directors. In 1989 he was presented with Coca-Cola's national "Moss A. Kendrix Award" for excellence in community relations.

In 1990 Thornton attended McDonald's Restaurants' "Hamburger University" in Oakbrook, Illinois in preparation for opening a franchise at Heritage Towne Centre near Elmwood Cemetery. He incorporated Thornton Enterprises in 1992 and has opened five additional locations under that mantle, including one in the Hueytown Wal-Mart, one on Jaybird Road near Brighton, one on 9th Avenue Bessemer, and another on State Farm Parkway in Wildwood. He sold the Wildwood location to his son, Dale.

Thornton continues to produce pencil drawings, often portraits of influential African Americans, which are licensed by his Trey Arts LLC. His work is displayed at Coca-Cola's local headquarters and in the Ronald McDonald House, and is also owned by Oprah Winfrey and and has been used in charity auctions to raise funds for a variety of non-profit organizations.

Thornton also serves on the board of directors for First Commercial Bank and was the first African-American to be elected president of The Club.

He has also served on the boards of the A. G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club, the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and the Vulcan Park Foundation. He was president of the Kiwanis Club of Vulcan and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham. He chaired the United Negro College Fund in 1995 and is a 2003 alumnus of Leadership Birmingham and Leadership Alabama. He was appointed to the board of Alabama State University in 2013 and elected chair in 2014. He resigned his position later the same year to avoid a conflict of interest when ASU signed a contract with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United.

Thornton published an autobiography, entitled Why Not Win? in 2019. The "Why Not Win Foundation", established with the proceeds from the books sales, promotes achievement and leadership. The foundation has also funded scholarships through the UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and the Tom Joyner Foundation.


  • Thornton, Larry D. (2019) Why Not Win?: Reflections on a fifty-year journey from the segregated South to America’s board rooms – and what it can teach us all. Montgomery: NewSouth Books ISBN 9781588383846


  • Williams, Roy L. (February 23, 2010) "Birmingham-area McDonald's franchise owner drawn to art." The Birmingham News
  • Moon, Josh (November 7, 2014) "ASU board of trustees chairman Larry Thornton resigns." Montgomery Advertiser
  • Massouleh, Tara (February 2017) "Local artist and McDonald's franchiser hosts annual art contest." Birmingham magazine
  • Hanner, Lynne (May 31, 2018) "Birmingham Businessman and Artist Larry Thornton joins the AIDB Foundation Board of Directors." AIDB news release
  • Bagwell, Dan (November 15, 2018) "Larry Thornton is an artist, an entrepreneur and a history maker in Birmingham." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Floyd, Lauren (August 17, 2019) "Birmingham’s First Black McDonald’s Owner Started Making $5 an Hour Painting Signs for Coca-Cola." Atlanta Black Star
  • Wilson, Haley (September 9, 2021) "Told He Would Never Succeed, Larry Thornton Sr. Became an Artist For Icons." The Birmingham Times

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