Vienna, VA – The life of Clarence
Thomas, as set forth in his memoir, MY GRANDFATHER'S SON, is destined
to become an American classic, not dissimilar to the autobiographies
of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.
This book, which chronicles an extraordinary life, describes the
education of an inquiring mind seeking to make sense of the racial
politics and ideological divisions that confronted him during the turbulent
l960s and l970s.
In an era when "Identity" politics dictated a particular
political, economic, and social stance for black Americans, those individuals
who persisted in thinking for themselves and following an often lonely
path to discover their own view of truth were frequently isolated and
often bitterly attacked.
Clarence Thomas was born in rural Georgia in l948, and was abandoned
by his father. His mother was left to raise him and his brother and
sister on the $10 dollars a week she earned as a maid. At the age of
seven, Thomas and his six-year-old brother were sent to live with his
mother's father, Myers Anderson, and her stepmother in their Savannah
home. This was a move that would change Thomas' life.
His grandfather, whom he called "Daddy," had a strict work
ethic. He owned his own fuel-oil business and he immediately subjected
the two boys to a regime of sacrifice and hard work. His response to
the poverty and segregation of black Savannah was the American ethic
of self-help, faith in God, delayed gratification, and individual initiative.
Thomas writes: "In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's
From Catholic elementary and high school, on to a seminary, and later
to the College of the Holy Cross and the Yale Law School, Thomas went
through many political transformations ? from altar boy to seminary
student to campus radical and racial militant ? before coming back
to the values his grandfather taught him and eventually arriving at
his own understanding of society.
Slowly, Thomas came to oppose race-based affirmative action programs
because such programs increase dependence on government: "That
would amount to a new kind of enslavement, one which ultimately relied
on the generosity ? and the ever-changing self-interests ? of politicians
and activists. It seemed to me that the dependency it fostered might
ultimately prove as diabolical as segregation, permanently condemning
poor people to the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder by cannibalizing
the values without which they had no long-term hope of improving their
lot... I began to suspect that Daddy had been right all along: the
only hope I had of changing the world was to change myself first."
Thomas remembers that the more he read, the less inclined he was
to conform to the cultural standards that blacks imposed on themselves
and on one another. "Merely because I was black, it seemed, I
was supposed to listen to Hugh Masekala instead of Carole King, just
as I was expected to be a radical, not a conservative. I no longer
cared to play that game... The black people I knew came from different
places and backgrounds... yet the color of our skin was supposed to
make us identical in spite of our differences. I didn't buy it. Of
course we had all experienced racism in one way or another, but did
that mean we had to think alike?"
After law school, Thomas went to work for John Danforth, who was
serving as Missouri's attorney general. When Danforth was elected to
the U.S. Senate, Thomas followed him to Washington. Thomas later worked
at the U. S. Department of Education and as head of the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission before being named a federal judge.
Along the way, he discovered the writings of leading black conservatives
such as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. He reports that, "One
of the first people in Washington who talked sense to me about race
was Jay Parker, the editor of a new magazine called THE LINCOLN REVIEW...
Jay was friendly, energetic, unflappable, and unapologetically conservative.
I'd never known a black person who called himself a conservative, and
it surprised me that we rarely disagreed about anything of substance."
Thomas provides this assessment of the black conservatives who had
influenced his thinking and became his friends: "They were all
smart, courageous, independent-minded men who came from modest backgrounds.
Politics meant nothing to them. All they cared about was truthfully
describing urgent social problems, then finding ways to solve them.
Unhampered by partisan allegiances, they could speak their minds with
honesty and clarity... I'll never forget the time when Jay reminded
me that freedom came from God, not Ronald Reagan. For Jay politics
was a part of life, not a way of life. It was an attitude I sought
There is much in this book about Clarence Thomas's personal life
as well as a lengthy description of the Supreme Court confirmation
hearings. In Washington, he writes, he was being pursued "not
by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing
sanctimony. For all the fear I'd known as a boy in Savannah, this was
the first time I'd found myself at the mercy of people who would do
whatever they could to hurt me and institutions that once prided themselves
on bringing segregation and its abuses to an end were aiding and abetting
in the assault."
Fortunately, Clarence Thomas survived the assault upon him and triumphed
over his adversaries. He has lived the American Dream, and this book
is an eloquent testimony to both that life and that dream.
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Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which
is THE REVOLUTION LOBBY (Council for Inter-American Security). He has
been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and
the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.
He is associate editor of THE LINCOLN REVIEW and a contributing editor
to such publications as HUMAN EVENTS, THE ST. CROIX REVIEW, and THE WASHINGTON
REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS.
In l980, Allan Brownfeld served with Clarence Thomas and Jay Parker
as a member of President Ronald Reagan's transition team at the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission and wrote that group's report of
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