Thomas was born in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia, a small, predominantly black community near Savannah founded by freedmen after the Civil War. He was the second of three children born to M. C. Thomas, a farm worker, and Leola "Pigeon" Williams, a domestic worker. They were descendants of American slaves, and the family spoke Gullah as a first language. Thomas's earliest known ancestors were slaves named Sandy and Peggy, who were born in the late 18th century and owned by wealthy planter Josiah Wilson of Liberty County, Georgia. Thomas's father left the family when Thomas was two years old. Though Thomas's mother worked hard, she was sometimes paid only pennies per day and struggled to earn enough money to feed the family, and was sometimes forced to rely on charity. After a house fire left them homeless, Thomas and his younger brother Myers were taken to live in Savannah with his maternal grandparents, Myers and Christine (née Hargrove) Anderson.
Thomas then experienced amenities such as indoor plumbing and regular meals for the first time. Myers Anderson had little formal education, but built a thriving fuel oil business that also sold ice. Thomas has called Anderson "the greatest man I have ever known." When Thomas was 10, Anderson started taking the family to help at a farm every day from sunrise to sunset. Anderson believed in hard work and self-reliance, and counseled the children to "never let the sun catch you in bed." He also impressed upon his grandsons the importance of a good education (Wikipedia 2).
In the fall of 1967, Clarence Thomas and 64 other young Catholic men entered Immaculate Conception Seminary in the northwestern Missouri town of Conception with the goal of becoming priests. Half the students, including Mr. Thomas, left the seminary after the first year.
Mr. Thomas later told several black friends about the incident that many believe prompted him to leave. On April 4, 1968, the day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, a group of students were watching television coverage of the event. Mr. Thomas heard one white student remark, "That's what they should do to all the niggers."
Jerry M. Hunter, general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, said of Mr. Thomas: "He remembers thinking, 'We're supposed to be people of God. If people have that view here, then this is not a place for me to be.' "
Mr. Thomas transferred to Holy Cross. He and most of the college's few dozen black students were housed together in Healey Dormitory, named for a black Roman Catholic bishop, said the Rev. Joseph J. LaBran, who is still a residence counselor at the college.
Administrators thought that placing the students together would help them find support in the overwhelmingly white school, he said. But the dormitory has since been integrated.
In 1969, several students protested the campus recruitment of students by General Electric because of its military work. The administration expelled some protesters, but while most of the protesters had been white, about half of those expelled were black.
Almost every black student, including Mr. Thomas, walked off campus until the administration reinstated those expelled, Father LaBran said.
Stanley E. Grayson, a former deputy mayor of New York City, was a friend of Mr. Thomas at Holy Cross, where they were both active in the black student union.
"Clarence was always an independent thinker," Mr. Grayson said. "He was the type who was going to look at a set of circumstances and reach his own conclusions. And I think that probably exists today" (Margolick 1-2).
“Just about every evening, a few minutes after 11, there Clarence would be coming through the door from the library, every single evening,” recalled Edward P. Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer known for his work chronicling Black lives in Washington, who lived down the hall from Thomas as a sophomore. “There was a fierce determination I sensed from him, that he was going to get as much as he could and get as far, ultimately, as he could.”
Thomas got his law degree from Yale but stuck a 15-cent cigar sticker to the frame of his diploma after failing to get a big law job — such firms, he would write, attributed his academic pedigree to preferential treatment. Instead, he took the only job offer he received and went to work for Missouri’s Republican attorney general, John Danforth, and discovered the writings of the Black conservative Thomas Sowell, who assailed affirmative action as undercutting self-reliance; Thomas wrote that he “felt like a thirsty man gulping down a glass of cool water” to see his own beliefs articulated. A few years later, after he was appointed by Reagan to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, he would complain that Black civil rights leaders “bitch, bitch, bitch, moan and moan, whine and whine” (Hakim and Becker 12).
Thomas was the only African-American member of Danforth's staff. He worked first in the criminal appeals division of Danforth's office and later in the revenue and taxation division. He has said he considers Assistant Attorney General the best job he ever had. When Danforth was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976, Thomas left to become an attorney with the Monsanto Chemical Company, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thomas moved to Washington, D.C., and again worked for Danforth from 1979 to 1981 as a legislative assistant handling energy issues for the Senate Commerce Committee. Thomas and Danforth had both studied to be ordained, although in different denominations. Danforth championed Thomas for the Supreme Court.
President Ronald Reagan nominated Thomas as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education on May 1, 1981. Thomas's nomination was received by the Senate on May 28, 1981, and he was confirmed to the position on June 26 … Journalist Evan Thomas once opined that Thomas was "openly ambitious for higher office" during his tenure at the EEOC. As chairman, he promoted a doctrine of self-reliance, and halted the usual EEOC approach of filing class-action discrimination lawsuits, instead pursuing acts of individual discrimination. He also asserted in 1984 that black leaders were "watching the destruction of our race" as they "bitch, bitch, bitch" about Reagan instead of working with the Reagan administration to alleviate teenage pregnancy, unemployment and illiteracy (Wikipedia 4).
Clarence and Ginni [Virginia Lamp] met in 1986 at a conference on affirmative action, which they both opposed. After a stint at the civil rights office of the Education Department, he was running the E.E.O.C.; she was an attorney at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and mused that year to Good Housekeeping about someday running for Congress. She had extracted herself from a New Age-y self-help group called Lifespring, which she would denounce as a cult, but was still attending meetings held by a cult-deprogramming organization, and she took him along to one. He would describe her as a “gift from God,” and they married in 1987 at a Methodist church in Omaha; it was her first marriage, his second. “There’s no other way to politely say this, but the fact she married a Black man must’ve caused an uproar in that family, I can’t even imagine,” said Scott Bange, who dated Ginni in high school. In 1991, one of Ginni Thomas’s aunts told The Washington Post that the future justice “was so nice, we forgot he was Black,” adding, “He treated her so well, all of his other qualities made up for his being Black” (Hakim and Becker 12).
… in June 1989, President Bush announced he would nominate Thomas to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
In his meetings with white Democratic staffers in the Senate, Thomas wrote, he was met with ill-concealed hostility." He says he was "struck by how easy it had become for sanctimonious whites to accuse a black man of not caring about civil rights." But his confirmation hearing to the federal appeals court would prove uneventful, and he got the support of a number of influential African Americans …
Thomas had been on the appeals court mere months when Justice William Brennan stepped down, and rumors circulated that Thomas was on the short list to replace him. Bush actually wanted to nominate Thomas for that seat. He was worried about the "optics" of nominating him to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall, if he were to retire, because he didn't want Thomas to be perceived as a quota pick.
But Bush's advisers, including White House Counsel Boyden Gray, believed it was too soon for Thomas, so Bush tapped another new appeals court appointee, David Souter of New Hampshire. Souter had spent seven years on the New Hampshire Supreme Court and had worked in state government before that. But he had yet to write a federal court opinion or grapple with hard federal constitutional law questions — as the Bush Administration would realize soon enough when the inexperienced Souter, once on the Court, proved to be less conservative than they had ever expected.
The next year, Marshall — a civil rights icon — announced his retirement. Thomas heard he was the leading candidate and wrote that he "felt sick" at the prospect of being a Supreme Court nominee. He worried about spending the rest of his life as a judge, and he worried about the battle it would take to get him confirmed because of his outspoken views.
But on the last day of June, President Bush phoned Thomas in his chambers in Washington. He asked him to come to Kennebunkport to discuss it with him, so Thomas flew up alone, not sure if he was being interviewed or selected. Virginia suggested he write a statement just in case. At her suggestion, he inserted in the statement that it was "only in America" that someone with his humble background — a poor black child from the segregated South — could grow up to become a Supreme Court nominee.
As Bush introduced Thomas to the nation, Thomas heard the clicking of the cameras, which he wrote "sounded like summer rain falling on the tin roof of our hand-built house in Liberty County, the individual drops blurring together in a steady pitter-patter." Standing beside the President, Thomas thought of his grandparents, and he suggests he had a sense of foreboding. He wrote that he recalled the ants he had watched as a child on the farm, building hills one grain of sand at a time, "only to have them senselessly destroyed in an instant by a passing foot."
"I'd pieced my life together the same way, slowly and agonizingly," he wrote. "Would it, too, be kicked callously into the dust" (Greenburg 1)?
TV viewers, both male and female, watched in increasing discomfort as the senators asked [Anita] Hill about large-breasted women, a porn star named Long Dong Silver and pubic hair on a Coke can, among other previously unthinkable subjects for a Senate committee hearing.
But for women, Hill’s testimony would have special significance, as it was the first time someone had so publicly shared her account of workplace harassment—something that so many of them had experienced.
Though the committee would eventually confirm Thomas, making him only the second Black man to serve on the Supreme Court, the impact of Hill’s televised testimony would reverberate dramatically across the nation, with lasting consequences that endure today.
“I think women saw play out, in the most human terms, Anita Hill—credible and very much reflecting the experiences of so many other women—being demeaned, being dismissed and being mistreated by an array of male senators,” says Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president emerita of the National Women’s Law Center. “And when they reflected upon it at the end of the hearings, their anger began to rise, and their determination to do something about it began to increase.”
Both Thomas and Hill had risen from poor rural childhoods in segregated America, graduated from Yale Law School and launched promising legal careers in Washington, D.C. Their paths converged at the U.S. Department of Education in 1981, when Thomas hired Hill to be his special assistant in the department’s Office of Civil Rights.
Shortly after that, according to Hill, Thomas began harassing her, a pattern that would continue after Thomas left his post to become chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and Hill moved with him to continue as his assistant.
Hill, who left Washington in 1983 and became a law professor in her native Oklahoma, was initially reluctant to come forward with her allegations against Thomas. But in the late summer of 1991, she was contacted by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who had heard rumors of possible misconduct by Thomas against at least one female employee in his past. After a three-day FBI investigation led the White House to determine the allegations were “unfounded,” the reporter Nina Totenberg of NPR learned of the FBI report and revealed Hill’s accusations to the public for the first time.
On October 11, Hill testified before the committee that Thomas had asked her out repeatedly and that even after she refused, often talked to her in graphic detail about sex. Throughout the brutally uncomfortable questioning by senators, Hill retained her composure, even when forced to repeat again and again the most disturbing and embarrassing parts of Thomas' alleged harassment. Years later, the committee’s Democratic chairman, Joe Biden, would publicly apologize to Hill for not protecting her from his fellow senators’ grilling.
Thomas vehemently denied Hill’s allegations and invoked racial discrimination, calling the hearing “a national disgrace...a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves,” imagining Thomas’ harassment, or of committing “flat-out perjury,” in the words of Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah even accused her of borrowing the Coke can incident from the 1971 novel The Exorcist. Despite Hill’s testimony, and that of four corroborating witnesses who said she talked with them about Thomas’ behavior at the time, the Senate voted to confirm Thomas 52-48, the narrowest margin in nearly a century. (Pruitt 1-2).
“Clarence Thomas.” Wikipedia. Net. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Thomas#Childhood
Greenburg, Jan Crawford. “Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out” ABC News, October 1, 2007. Net. https://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=3664944&page=1
Hakim, Danny and Becker, Jo. “The Long Crusade of Clarence and Ginni Thomas.” New York Times Magazine, February 23, 2022. Net. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/22/magazine/clarence-thomas-ginni-thomas.html
Margolick, David. “Judge Portrayed as a Product of Ideals Clashing with Life.” New York Times, July 3, 1991. Net. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/07/03/us/judge-portrayed-as-a-product-of-ideals-clashing-with-life.html
Pruitt, Sarah. “How Anita Hill’s Testimony Made America Cringe—and Change.” History, updated February 9, 2021. Net. https://www.history.com/news/anita-hill-confirmation-hearings-impact