Thomas's Journey; the Path to the Supreme Court

Article excerpt


Toward the end of C-SPAN's fascinating coverage of the book party commentator Armstrong Williams gave for his friend and former boss Clarence Thomas, the justice can be seen and heard exhorting several well-wishers, in his rich and resonant voice, "Stay positive!" If only he'd said that to himself more often while writing this book. By the end of "My Grandfather's Son," "woe is me" has morphed into "woe unto them," and the reader wishes for evidence of Mr. Thomas' oft-reported sunny side.

He could justifiably have called this book "My Incredible Journey." Born in tiny Pinpoint, Ga., in 1948, six years before Brown v. the Board of Education, Mr. Thomas' mother had to send him and his brother to Savannah - all their belongings in two paper grocery sacks - to live with her father, Myers Anderson, who greets them with: "The damn vacation's over!" By his grandson's account a most remarkable man, Anderson was entirely self-made, having built both his house and his fuel-oil-delivery business by himself. And as hard as he drove himself, he drove the boys even harder.

At 17, Mr. Thomas entered a Catholic seminary, where in the spring of 1968 he overheard a white student say, when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, "That's good. I hope the son of a bitch dies." Mr. Thomas left both the seminary and the Catholic Church, but, on the advice of a former teacher, a nun, transferred to Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. At Holy Cross, Mr. Thomas says he became "radicalized," helping found the Black Student Union and holding some liberal views before becoming an "independent thinker," thanks to his reading of a rather unlikely twosome, Ayn Rand and Richard Wright. (Later, Thomas Sowell would become a major influence.) Accepted by Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania law schools, Mr. Thomas chose Yale.

After graduation, finding no room in the inns of the establishment law firms, Mr. Thomas settled for a job with Missouri's attorney general, John Danforth. But the move paid big dividends in 1979, when Danforth, elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri, summoned him to Washington. In the fall of 1980, Mr. Thomas officially changed his registration to Republican. The election of Ronald Reagan provided opportunities for conservative lawyers who happened to be black. …