|Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas|
As The Wall Street Journal and New York Times have observed, the museum is simultaneously uplifting and upsetting—and it should be, given that the tapestry of our nation’s history includes both the disgraceful epoch of slavery and the inspiring endeavors of legendary African-American leaders like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King Jr.
It is about one of these leaders that I write today: Clarence Thomas, the second African-American justice to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as the longest-serving African-American justice.
As much as I am grateful for the museum and its efforts to preserve and promote the indispensable contributions of African-Americans to the collective history of our nation, I believe the museum has made a mistake by omitting the enormous legacy and impact of Thomas, as well as his compelling background.
Even in the context of the countless African-American heroes from U.S. history, few “against all odds” tales are more inspirational than that of Thomas. To quote one Thomas expert, Mark Paoletta:
[Thomas] grew up in the segregated deep south of coastal Georgia. Because of his Geechee heritage, he experienced discrimination from other African-Americans as well as from whites. Thomas was fortunate that he was sent at age 7 to live with his grandparents, who were both strong role models. His grandfather, Myers Anderson, was uneducated but built a small business delivering fuel oil, coal, firewood, and ice in the Savannah community. He instilled the values of hard work, perseverance, and accountability. He used to tell Thomas and his younger brother, “Old Man Can’t is dead. I helped bury him.”
Ever his grandfather’s son, Thomas also helped bury “Old Man Can’t”—in spectacular fashion. Thomas’ dramatic journey from enduring entrenched racial discrimination to serving on the highest court in a country of 320 million people is one that should be shouted from the rooftops to all Americans.
And Thomas’ historic rise is only half of the story. This year, we commemorate the 25th anniversary of his appointment to the Supreme Court. In a quarter-century, Thomas has carved out one of the more profound and unique legacies in the court’s history.
. . . If you were to travel back in time to Pin Point, Georgia, in 1948, and ask that community whether a newborn in Thomas’ circumstances could someday sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, I am confident the answer of most (if not all) would have been: No way.
And yet, by the grace of God, 68 years later, here he is. . . . Read More
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