Don't forget Justice Clarence Thomas in Black History Month celebrations

Ken Blackwell is FRC's Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance. This article appeared in USA Today on February 18, 2020.

Black History Month should be a celebration of African Americans who have helped transform our nation. Sadly, that is not the case.

To be included in the Black History Month celebration, one must be a “progressive” or, at the very least, not conservative. No doubt that is why Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the most influential black men in America, is routinely ignored, even marginalized instead of celebrated as a man who has played a decisive role in American history as well as black history; and serves as an inspiration to the African American community.

The recent release of the documentary "Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words," gives the American people a chance to finally become acquainted with Justice Thomas’ life struggles and accomplishments — it’s a story exemplifying the spirit of Black History Month. 

Trying to erase history

However, since Thomas’ confirmation to the Supreme Court, many liberals have pretended Justice Thomas does not exist. One of the most blatant examples of such behavior occurred when the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. opened in 2016 with no exhibit mentioning Justice Thomas.

Smithsonian officials faced <ahref="" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-t-l="|inline|intext|n/a">intense backlash over the decision to snub the second black Supreme Court justice in history, when they granted exhibit space to Black Panthers, <ahref="" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-t-l="|inline|intext|n/a">hip-hop and Black Lives Matter activists.

Eventually, the museum gave in to public outcries and installed an exhibit honoring Thomas and former Justice Thurgood Marshall. But, to this day, click on the museum’s homepage and you won’t see an image or mention of him. 

Try clicking on the exhibit titled, “Making a Way out of No Way” — an exhibit dedicated to African Americans who “… created possibilities in a world that denied them opportunities.” You won’t find a mention of Justice Thomas, even though the man’s life story represents the very essence of this exhibit.      

Time and time again, Thomas is ignored because he is a conservative black man who unabashedly supports limited government and defends the Constitution. Carrie Severino, who clerked for Justice Thomas at the Supreme Court, writes that he “often makes his calls for constitutional fidelity alone, like a biblical prophet crying out in the wilderness. But that doesn’t bother him, first because he didn’t take an oath to try to create coalitions, to make friends on the Court, or to please the chattering classes. He took an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution.’”

The release of “Created Equal” shines a much-needed light on Justice Thomas’ inspiring story and hopefully will help educate the American public about this great man.

Thomas' story is one of incredible perseverance 

The justice grew up in poverty in rural Georgia and experienced racial discrimination as he tried to better himself by attending predominantly white schools. The hate he experienced caused him, in his own words, to become “an angry black man.”

After participating in a particularly violent protest at Harvard University during the turbulent 1960s, he wandered into a church on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross, where he was attending. He asked God to take the anger out of his heart. After this experience, he let go of his bitterness and embraced love and acceptance as his guiding principles.

Thomas has maintained his faith and commitment to love, even when he has labelled the “wrong black guy” by powerful progressives. He has faced nonsensical questions and brutally racist attacks but has never given in to the urge to hate his opponents or stoop to their level.

Unlike those who ignore and marginalize the justice, "Created Equal" lets Thomas speak for himself, as the bulk of the film consists of director Michael Pack interviewing Thomas and his wife Virginia about their journey. Listening to Thomas will likely stun viewers when they hear his compelling and emotional story.

Thomas’s life trajectory, which took him from a broken family and brutal poverty in the segregated south to the United States Supreme Court — where he is now the longest serving justice — is exactly what we should celebrate this month and all year long. Every American, young and old regardless of race, should hear and learn from Thomas’ story of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles all while maintaining his faith, his courage and his personal integrity.

His life has been an inspiration to countless African-Americans like me, and that will be his legacy.