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Clarence Thomas on Principles & Values

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Bush Sr. 1991)


1991: Accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill

Five days before the Thomas confirmation hearings were to begin, an aide, acting on a tip from a Thomas critic, telephoned a young black law professor at the University of Oklahoma named Anita Hill, to inquire about the judge. The call set off a chain reaction that plunged the politics of the nation into a melodrama seldom seen since the Watergate scandal.

A decade earlier, Anita Hill had worked for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She made shocking allegations of sexual harassment by Thomas at the EEOC. Biden, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, decided to send the FBI to talk directly to the woman. She wrote a four-page account of her accusations against the judge.

When confronted, Thomas said, "It just didn't happen. I wouldn't do that. Black men are always accused of that." [When the news reached the public], Biden called a quick second round of hearings. [Anita Hill testified at length about sexual harassment by Thomas, and Thomas was confirmed anyway].

Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.260-265 , Oct 5, 2010

Raised by grandfather in Geechee culture

In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son. I even called him Daddy because that was what my mother called him. He was one hero in my life. What I am is what he made me.

I am descended from the West African slaves who lived on the barrier islands and in the low country of Georgia, South Carolina, and coastal northern Florida. In Georgia my people were called Geechees; in North Carolina, Gullahs. They were isolated from the rest of the population, black and white alike, and so maintained their distinctive dialect and culture well into the twentieth century. What little remains of Geechee life is now celebrated by scholars of black folklore, but when I was a boy, "Geechee" was a derogatory term for Georgians who had profoundly Negroid features and spoke with a foreign-sounding accent similar to the dialects heard on certain Caribbean islands.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p. 2 , Oct 1, 2007

Raised in both rural poverty and urban squalor

When I was a boy, Savannah was hell. Overnight I moved from the comparative safety and cleanliness of rural poverty to the foulest kind of urban squalor. The only running water in our building was downstairs in the kitchen, where several layers of old linoleum were all that separated us from the ground. The toilet was outdoors in the muddy black backyard.

My mother and brother shared the only bed, leaving me to sleep on a chair. It was too small, even for a six-year-old. We couldn't afford to light the kerosene stove very often, so I was cold most of the time, cold and hungry. Though there was only one store in [my previous home of] Pinpoint, the rivers and the land provided us with a lavish and steady supply of fresh food: fish, pig's feet, and plenty of fresh vegetables. Never before had I known the nagging, chronic hunger that plagued me in Savannah. Hunger without the prospect of eating and cold without the prospect of warmth--that's how I remember the winter of 1955.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p. 6-8 , Oct 1, 2007

Learned standard English only in high school

The fall of 1964 Daddy drove me out to St. John Vianney. I walked into the seminary building, opened the door, and saw a sea of strange white faces. But their interest in me, though it made me uncomfortable, didn't seem hostile, and no one treated me badly or showed any signs of outright bigotry.

The panic I felt on my first day gave way to a constant state of controlled anxiety. My new teachers assigned even more homework than the nuns at St. Pius X, and the classes required more preparation. I wasn't used to that kind of pressure, and I started to worry about flunking out. Propelled by fear and excitement, I started reading in closer detail and with deeper understanding than ever before.

My grades were more than good enough. Father Coleman told me matter-of-factly that I didn't speak standard English and that I would have to learn how to talk properly if I didn't want to be thought "inferior." Yet it motivated me, too: I vowed that day that no one would ever again say such things to me.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p. 32-34 , Oct 1, 2007

If Church had been more anti-racist, I'd be a priest

Treatment of blacks in America cried out for the unequivocal condemnation of a righteous institution that proclaimed the inherent equality of all men. Yet the Church remained silent, and its silence haunted me. I have often thought that my life might well have followed a different route had the Church been as adamant about ending racism then as it is about ending abortion right now.

I'd come to the conclusion that the priesthood was not for me.

I was still torn by indecision when I walked into the dormitory one April afternoon and heard someone shout that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. "That's good," another student replied. "I hope the son of a bitch dies." His brutal words finished off my vocation--and my youthful innocence about race. This was the real world: the seminary was surreal, far removed from the momentous turmoil in which America was now immersed.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p. 42-44 , Oct 1, 2007

Early member of Black Student Union at Holy Cross

Holy Cross was far more than just a school to me. It had become the embodiment of all my hopes for the future, my last chance to do more than merely eke out a bare living in the segregated South. It would be my escape, my emancipation.

Holy Cross was still an all-male school in 1968. It was also nearly all white: I was one of 6 black students in a class of about 550. I was the corresponding secretary of the newly organized Black Students' Union. Our race, we thought, separated us from whites in ways that only we could appreciate. It gave us a swagger, a sense of moral superiority. We were the aggrieved and the righteous.

[During my time at Holy Cross] one of the biggest changes was that I parted ways with the Church. It was all about Church dogma, not the social problems with which I was obsessed.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p. 50-55 , Oct 1, 2007

Member of Black Republican Congressional Staff Association

I was neither a joiner nor a Republican--yet--but I made an exception for Black Republican Congressional Staff Association , since it helped to relieve the isolation that each of us felt working in our separate offices. It wasn't exactly fashionable to be a black person working for a Republican, and it was comforting to meet others in the same boat.

I had reflexively disliked most Republicans prior to going to work for Senator Danforth in Jefferson City. "Black is a state of mind" one staffer told me. That kind of all-us-black-folks-think-alike nonsense wasn't part of my upbringing, and I saw it as nothing more than another way to herd blacks into a political camp.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p.124-125 , Oct 1, 2007

A poor Southern black child CAN make it to Supreme Court

As President Bush introduced me to America, I thought of my wife, my grandparents, and all the other people who had helped me along the way. The president had been looking for someone who was competent at doing the job but who had also been tested in political battle and thus could be counted on not to cave in under the pressure of a confirmation battle, or to change his views after being appointed to the Court.

My nomination was an affirmation of the American dream: a poor black child from the segregated South had grown up to become a Supreme Court justice. My opponents couldn't deny that I'd been born into rural poverty, so they cast doubt on everything I'd done since leaving home, twisting and belittling my escape from the poverty and ignorance of my young years.

"You were confirmed: 52-48." Mere confirmation, even to the Supreme Court, seemed pitifully small compensation for what had been done to me.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p.214-286 , Oct 1, 2007

Sexual misconduct is age-old accusation against black men

Questions about my relationship with Anita Hill: The age-old blunt instrument of accusing a black man of sexual misconduct. I felt sure that I had never said or done anything to her that was even remotely inappropriate.

I'd grown up hyperconscious of the need to avoid even the appearance of such impropriety, for I was intensely aware of America's long and ugly history of using lies about sex as excuses to persecute black men who stepped out of line. I was up against a phalanx of smart, well-heeled interest groups and powerful politicians who opposed my nomination. They were out to kill me, and they'd stop at nothing.

And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that, unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you, you will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by the US Senate rather than hung from a tree.

Source: My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas, p.214-286 , Oct 1, 2007

Due to Black church, Black conservatives no longer outliers

Due to the influence of the Black churches, the political views of most Blacks are more conservative than they realize. Studies show that most Blacks are opposed to same-sex marriage, are eager to curtail the high Black abortion rate, and anxious to reform the big economic issues that have a disproportionately negative effect on Blacks. Conservative values and ideologies on social and fiscal issues are a natural home for Blacks. Blacks can no longer look at conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarenc Thomas as an outlier or aberration. In the recent past we have seen the rise of many successful conservative Blacks, such as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, and scores of others throughout the business world and state and local politics. The common denominator of all the aforementioned great Black Americans is that they think for themselves. That's the result of knowing the facts and understanding the history of the political parties.
Source: They Think You're Stupid, by Herman Cain, p. 43 , Jun 14, 2005

OpEd: Nomination hearing showed end of Western civilization

During the worst of the Clarence Thomas hearings, the nominee for the Supreme Court was subjected to scurrilous and vulgar sexual allegations that were telecast internationally. The shock of seeing how far our governing processes had descended was so great that I went to a friend's office and said, "Television is showing the end of Western civilization in living color." He replied, "Of course it's coming to an end. But don't worry. It takes a long time, and in the meantime it's possible to live well.
Source: Slouching Towards Gomorrah, by Robert Bork, p.335 , Dec 16, 2003

People who stand up for beliefs are culturally intimidated

Speaking to a conservative gathering, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the nation was engaged in a cultural war in which people who stood for their beliefs were often intimidated into silence. “One cannot be cowed by criticism,” Justice Thomas said. He said that when, as a black public official in 1980, he first criticized programs like affirmative action and busing for school integration, he was “subjected to intimidation.”

“Debate was not permitted,” he said. “Orthodoxy was enforced.” Thomas delivered a version of a speech that he has given before and that has the principal theme that courage is required to battle an intellectual orthodoxy imposed on people. The theme was distinctly autobiographical, as he has often been the object of withering criticism for his conservative views that are at odds with the views of most other black Americans. He said that “today, no one can honestly be surprised by the venomous attacks” unleashed on anyone who disagreed with conventional wisdom.

Source: NY Times, p. A22 , Feb 13, 2001

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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Page last updated: Mar 08, 2014