Every Black History Month Celebration Should Honor American Hero Clarence Thomas

By Mark Paoletta

Reprinted with permission, The Federalist, February 5, 2024. Photo credit: Associate Justice Clarence Thomas joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a group portrait on Oct. 7, 2022. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Just because Justice Thomas lives rent-free in the left’s collective racist mind doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate him and his life.

This Black History Month is an excellent opportunity for Americans to celebrate the inspiring life and jurisprudence of Justice Clarence Thomas, the second black Supreme Court justice in our nation’s history (and now the 11th longest-serving justice in history) and the intellectual leader of the Supreme Court.  

Justice Thomas is our greatest living American. But the left and its media allies will continue to ignore or defame Thomas because they have manufactured a ridiculous narrative that Thomas does not think the way a black man ought to think. In the left’s worldview, your skin color determines how you must think. Of course, this is racist, and the left’s narrative is a lie.

From the Depths of Poverty and Despair

But first, let’s focus on a truly remarkable American life. Thomas was born in 1948 into abject poverty in Pin Point, Georgia, just outside of Savannah, where segregation ruled the day. His father abandoned the family when Thomas was 2, leaving his mom, who was uneducated and working as a maid for white families and at the nearby oyster factory, to struggle to raise three children. 

By the grace of God, Thomas’ mother asked her parents to help, and Thomas and his brother went to live with his grandparents. His grandfather enrolled the boys in the segregated all-black Catholic elementary school. Those two developments changed Thomas’ life, as his grandfather and the Irish nuns at St. Benedict’s held young Clarence to the highest standards and expectations, teaching him the virtues of hard work and perseverance, and did not accept any excuses. 

With those skills, Thomas excelled through school at every level, despite being the only black student at a just-desegregated high school seminary. In his college years, and especially at Holy Cross, Thomas embraced black nationalism, and as he has described, “racism and race explained everything.” But Thomas soon concluded this was not the answer and began his journey back to where he started in the Catholic Church. He embraced a philosophy that focused on individual rather than group rights.

On his intellectual journey back from the left, he came upon the books of Professor Thomas Sowell, a brilliant economist and prolific writer, who took issue with liberal social welfare programs and explained how they harmed black Americans. Sowell is a black man, and thus his philosophy was viewed as especially heretical. But Thomas gulped up his work, and as Thomas described, Sowell had a “salvific” effect and a “tremendous impact” on Thomas’ life. 

At a conference hosted by Sowell in December 1980, Thomas made similar comments to a reporter about the harmful effects of social welfare programs on black families. Retribution from the left and its allies in the media was instant.

Dissenting From Destructive, Racist Ideology

Thomas’ hard-earned views led him into the Reagan administration. It was there that Thomas’ steel backbone was forged as he was mercilessly attacked, particularly by leftist black leadership. Often ignored in this story are Thomas’ battles with those in the Reagan administration who thought he was taking the wrong approach. He stood his ground to all critics and stuck to his principles.   

But Thomas’ criticisms of race-based affirmative action and other social welfare programs were an existential threat to the left, and especially the leftist black leadership’s efforts to play on white guilt and label America as a racist country, where blacks were helpless, lower standards and set-asides were necessary for blacks, and reparations were required. 

Thomas called out this destructive ideology and has been branded a sellout, an Uncle Tom. But this is a lie. It’s the black leftist leadership that does not reflect black Americans’ views, and in fact, advocates policies harmful to black Americans. For example, 81 percent of black parents support school choice, which would allow parents to move their children from failing schools to better schools. Such opportunities have proven to be life-changing to young children who were condemned to a poor education, but the NAACP opposes school choice. Why? Perhaps because the NAACP receives significant funding from majority-white unions, with leaders like Randi Weingarten.

On many of the hot-button issues, black Americans are much more conservative than black leadership. They oppose race-based affirmative action and late-term abortions and overwhelmingly support voter-ID laws. The leftist black leadership holds the opposite views on these issues. Who exactly is the sellout and traitor?

Thus, it’s not surprising that the left launched an all-out assault on Thomas during his nomination to the Supreme Court, including the baseless 11th-hour smear by Anita Hill. The NAACP opposed his nomination, despite support from an overwhelming majority of black Americans. Sound familiar? After watching Thomas, Hill, and others testify, the American people overwhelmingly believed Thomas. And only 26 percent of women believed Hill. 

When Thomas went on the court, Democrats and leftist black leadership continued to show their true racist colors, smearing Thomas as dumb and unqualified, a shoe-shine boy to Justice Scalia. A young Hakeem Jeffries compared Thomas to a “House Negro.” Thomas paid no mind to these critics, taking his seat on the high court, and over the course of more than 30 years in more than 750 opinions, he advocated an originalist jurisprudence that is faithful to the Constitution. He was often in the dissent, but these opinions have formed a roadmap for this new court’s majority opinions, including on affirmative action, Second Amendment rights, abortion, religious liberties, and reining in the administrative state. 

Endless Mission to Discredit a Black Conservative

Having lost the battle of ideas, the left now attacks Thomas on made-up ethics charges. Like the smears over the past 40 years, Thomas knows it is not grounded in facts, but driven by the left’s obsession to take down a principled black conservative. As he noted, “This is the wrong black guy. He has to be destroyed. Just say it. Now, at least we’re honest with each other.”

This animosity toward Thomas was on shocking display in the last year of the Obama administration when the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened, and there was nothing on Thomas’ life or time on the bench. Instead, it mentions Thomas once in the context of the discredited Anita Hill making allegations against him and has a button, “I believe Anita,” on display.

We know Thomas lives rent-free in the left’s collective racist mind and drives them crazy, but for those not blinded by leftist rage, Thomas should live in our hearts and minds, and we should celebrate him and his life — especially during Black History Month.

During this month, and every other month, I recommend watching the terrific documentary, “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words,” or reading the book of the same name.  Better yet, read Justice Thomas’ riveting memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, which was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

Mark Paoletta served as a lawyer in the George H.W. Bush White House Counsel’s office and worked on the confirmation of Justice Thomas. He served as General Counsel of the Office of Management & Budget during the Trump Adminstration. He is a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America.

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