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Clarence Thomas' Memoir: "My Grandfather's Son"

Expository critical essays in literary, political, historical, philosophical, and spiritual topics remain part of my literary toolkit.

Justice Clarence Thomas

Justice Clarence Thomas

A Paradoxical Title

The book's title is a paradox. At first, it seems to be referring to Clarence Thomas' father, or perhaps to an uncle; after all, the son of one's grandfather is, in fact, one's father or uncle. But Thomas begins by narrating a little story about his biological father that reveals a different subject of the title.

First Meeting with Biological Father at Age Nine

Thomas was nine years when he met his father, M. C. Thomas, for the first time. Clarence's mother had divorced "C," as he was called, in 1950, and C then relocated from Pinpoint, Georgia, to Philadelphia. Clarence and his brother, Myers, were living with their mother's parents, and one day unexpectedly, the mother called to tell them that someone was at her apartment and wanted to meet them.

They summoned a cab that took them to their mother's housing-project apartment. C was there and announced, "I am your daddy." Clarence describes his father's demeanor, as he made that announcement: "he told us in a firm, shameless voice that carried no hint of remorse for his inexplicable absence from our lives." The man did not tell them that he loved them or that he missed them.

Clarence’s father did treat them politely and even promised to send them "a pair of Elgin watches with flexible bands that were popular at the time." They watched the mail day after day, and after a year had passed without the watches or further word from their father, their grandparents bought the watches for the boys.

The justice writes, "My father had broken the only promise he ever made to us." Clarence and his brother often found it hard to understand how "a man could show no interest in his own children." And the Justice Thomas still wonders how that is possible.

"In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son"

Clarence saw his father a second time after his high school graduation, when C had come to visit his own father in Montgomery, a town near Pinpoint. Clarence felt that he owed him at least a visit because C was his father; however, his brother, Myers, refused to see the man again. Clarence also appreciated the fact that his father had not interfered with his grandparents as they raised him and his brother.

Myers wanted nothing to do with his biological father and said, "the only father we had was our grandfather." Clarence admits that it may sound harsh, but Myers' evaluation of the situation was accurate; thus Clarence contends rightly in the paradox, "In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son."

Tribute to Grandfather

Justice Thomas' memoir is aptly titled. His grandfather, who stepped in to become the young Thomas boys' father, "was dark, strong, proud, and determined to mold me in his image."

Despite a rebellious period when Clarence seemed to reject his grandfather's beliefs, Clarence still sought his approval, and his powerful force in Clarence's life is recognized by the justice as he declares in tribute, "He was the one hero in my life. What I am is what he made me."

Circumstances of Birth

The following excerpt offers a sample of the justice’s writing style, as he describes further the circumstances of his birth:

My mother, Leola, whom I called Pigeon, her family nickname, was born out of wedlock in 1929 or 1930. Her mother died in childbirth, and she saw little of Daddy as a child. At first she was raised by her maternal grandmother, who died when she was eight or nine years old. Then she went to live in Pinpoint with Annie Green, her mother's sister. C and his family moved near there to work at Bethesda Home for Boys, which is next to Pinpoint; that was where he met Pigeon, all of whose children he sired. My sister, Emma Mae, was born in 1946, with Myers Lee following three years later. I was born between them in Sister Annie's house on June 23, 1948. I was delivered by Lula Kemp, a midwife who came from the nearby community of Sandfly. It was one of those sweltering Georgia nights when the air is so wet that you can barely draw breath. To this day my mother swears I was too stubborn to cry. (Clarence Thomas. My Grandfather’s Son. p3.)

Nomination to the Supreme Court

After President George H. W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall on July 1, 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee led by Senator Joseph Biden began their search for dirt that could smear the nomination and put an end to it. Clarence Thomas had a stellar reputation, easily passed the FBI investigation, and seemed on his way to an easy confirmation.

Then Biden brought in Anita Hill, allowed even encouraged her to perjure herself to the senate committee. Hill, at first, insisted that she remain anonymous, but to his credit, Biden insisted there be a name and ultimately a face put to the allegations they were about to unveil.

The insistence by Hill to remain anonymous is the first red flag that her story was concocted out of whole cloth. The eminent economist and political analyst, Thomas Sowell, puts the lie to Anita Hill’s perfidy:

The really fatal fact about Anita Hill’s accusations was that they were first made to the Senate Judiciary Committee in confidence, and she asked that her name not be mentioned when the accusations were presented to Judge Thomas by those trying to pressure him to withdraw his nomination to the Supreme Court.

Think about it: The accusations referred to things that were supposed to have happened when only two people were present. If the accusations were true, Clarence Thomas would automatically know who originated them. Anita Hill’s request for anonymity made sense only if the charges were false.

The justice offers other examples of inconsistencies and outright lies by Hill against him. Further analyses of Hill’s claims have debunked her story since she first offered it. After public sentiment seemed to be favoring Hill’s version of events, the justice fought back hard and turned that sentiment around. His "high-tech lying" rebuttal remains one of the most persuasive message ever uttered before a senate committee:

This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. 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 a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree. (Clarence Thomas. My Grandfather’s Son. p. 271)

Despite the disgusting display of corruption perpetrated by committee chairman Senator Joseph Biden and the Democrat-led senate judiciary committee, Thomas ultimately won his seat on the Supreme Court. Like Judge Robert Bork before him, he had been treated maliciously and unfairly, but unlike Bork, Thomas managed to defeat the evil leveled against him.

Living and Serving with Grace and Dignity

Justice Thomas offers a fascinating glimpse into his life in this memoir. His trials and tribulations have all only served to deepen and strengthen his faith in God (the Divine Reality). His life of faith and his use of prayer demonstrate the courage of a man who has served his country with the grace and dignity so necessary of any public servant. After the character assassination attempted by the Democrats and their compliant media, Thomas felt that not only his life has been smeared but also his family and friends had suffered denigration.

As Justice Thomas entered his new duties he felt that he had all those reputations to repair. He closes his memoir with his thought on rebuilding his, his family’s, and his friends’ esteem in the eye of the world. Feeling the presence of those loved ones, especially those two most responsible for raising him, Daddy and Aunt Tina, as he entered the conference room to begin work with his new colleague on the court, he reports,

Looking at my new colleagues as the heavy door closed firmly behind me, I thanked God for the lives of the man and woman who had led me here. Then I prayed silently: Lord, grant me the wisdom to know what is right and the courage to do it. (p. 289)

The justice fittingly closes his memoir with a prayer, for it had been prayer and absolute dependence on his faith that brought him through the worse period of his life. He had come through that dark night triumphant but would face a lifetime of further discrimination and denigration at the hands of his opponents. Yet the strength of this man’s spiritual stamina continues to support him, his loved ones, and all those who admire him.

Sources

Clarence Thomas Speaks at Hillsdale College's Commencement Ceremony

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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