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The Conservative Curmudgeon
April 18, 2008

Clarence Thomas' MY GRANDFATHER'S SON —
Story of an Extraordinary American Life

by Allan C. Brownfeld

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 son."

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 to emulate."

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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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward this column if credit is given to the author and the Foundation.

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 policy recommendations.

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