Clarence Thomas never met a national debate that he didn’t embrace.
In 1991 it was over his contentious confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States, marred by allegations that he had sexually harassed a subordinate years before.
Now 25 years later, based largely on those hearings and his record on the bench – whichever side you favor – Thomas is at the center of another debate: Should he be prominently included in the Smithsonian Institute's new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Supporters of the Georgia-born judge argue that he should be and have launched a petition urging the museum’s curator to make him a primary focus.
“The museum highlights people of less noble endeavors, and it is unfathomable to think the curators were not open-minded enough to include all historically significant African Americans, no matter their political beliefs,” the petition read.
But others, who never believed Thomas to be a worthy heir of Thurgood Marshall and who are troubled by his rulings against affirmative action, argue that he doesn’t belong.
"Clarence Thomas is a mediocre jurist at best," said Samuel F. Mosteller, the Georgia president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "All he has done is pander to the far right and whatever Antonin Scalia told him to do. He has not been fair and is a one-trick pony."
While Thomas is not a primary focus of any exhibit at the museum, Smithsonian spokesperson Linda St. Thomas notes that he is technically represented.
The museum is set up with a dozen inaugural exhibitions, which are organized by theme. One of those is "A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond," which focuses on social, economic, political and cultural moments during the past four decades where issues of race dominated the national conversation and captivated the American public.
“One such national moment was the 1991 confirmation hearing for Thomas, which involved accusations of sexual harassment from Anita Hill—charges that were denied by Clarence Thomas,” St. Thomas said. “Her testimony became the catalyst for a national discussion about women, race relations and gender politics.”
Andrew Young, who as a former mayor of Atlanta, congressman, United Nations Ambassador and civil rights leader has a resume worthy of inclusion himself, said he hasn't visited the museum yet and doesn't even know if he is in it.
He said he has never agreed with anything Thomas has ever done, and still doesn't understand him, but added that he belongs.
“When Dr. King was alive, I didn’t let myself think. I did what he thought and told me to do. When he was gone and I was forced to think for myself,” said Young, arguing that he believes that Thomas’ thinking will eventually evolve. “I am still thinking that with the new appointments that will be made to the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas will either grow or resign. If Clarence Thomas had been there with Thurgood Marshall, it would have made all of the difference in the World.”
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