Punishing Thomas' good deeds

June 05, 1996|By Mona Charen

LATE IN 1995, a group of mostly black students from Prince George's County, was taken on a field trip to the Supreme Court of the United States. After touring the building and hearing explanations of how cases are argued and decided, the students met Justice Clarence Thomas, who invited them to his chambers.

The Supreme Court justice and the middle school kids sat and talked for more than 90 minutes. It's the kind of thing Justice Thomas does regularly -- and no other member of the court does. Last April, reports the Charlottesville Daily Progress, he spent two hours with six fourth-graders who were part of a program for gifted African-American students. They visited him again this year.

The students from Thomas G. Pullen Creative and Performing Arts School in Landover, Md., were overcome by Justice Thomas' graciousness and inspired by the story of his life.

Mary Modderman, president of the parent-teacher association, who was along on the trip, invited the justice to speak at an eighth-grade awards ceremony to be held this month at the Pullen School. Clarence Thomas accepted.

No good deed goes unpunished.

As the date for the speech approached, Kenneth Johnson, a school board member in the majority black county, said, "I don't want him to have a forum in Prince George's." Within days, Jerome Clark, superintendent of schools, publicly disinvited Thomas.

Several days of furor followed, with some black leaders delighting in Justice Thomas' exclusion and others expressing shame at the discourtesy and narrow-mindedness of the county's action. A caller to a black radio station declared Mr. Johnson a hero. One school board member said she was too busy worrying about racism and sexism to bother about Clarence Thomas. Others, like school board member Alvin Thornton, were ashamed. "Everybody understands," he told The Washington Post, "that you can't in a democracy, especially black folks, be seen as putting cold water on free speech."

As of this writing, county officials are still publicly thrashing about, trying to decide whether to reinvite the justice, to send a letter of apology or to keep the status quo. The kids are bitterly disappointed.

And speaking of the kids, just think of what they have been spared. They might actually have heard a speech from the highest-ranking black official in the U.S. government. He might have said to them what he says to most of the kids who pass through his chambers: Stay in school. Study hard. Listen to your parents. Stay out of trouble. Take responsibility for your life. Or he might have talked to them about the culture of whining we've acquired in this country. Speaking to graduates at Liberty University in Virginia, Justice Thomas said, "Be a hero, not a victim. You can't be both at the same time. It's one or the other."

Liberal bias

Clarence Thomas is disdained by liberal blacks because he opposes affirmative action. There is never a doubt in their minds that he takes this position because he's an Uncle Tom -- an ingrate who has benefited from affirmative action and now selfishly wants to pull up the ladder behind him. Liberals so often presume bad faith on the part of their adversaries. Perhaps that salves their consciences when they engage in character assassination.

In fact, as is clear to anyone who reads Justice Thomas without vTC ideological blinders, he is passionately concerned about the welfare of his fellow blacks. His opposition to affirmative action stems from his deep aversion to discrimination on the basis of race -- a position liberals like Hubert Humphrey shared.

The petty little potentates of Prince George's County should sit up and take notice: Clarence Thomas is a leading thinker on the U.S. Supreme Court. His opinions have swayed the votes of colleagues. His work is respected and honored by his fellow justices, even those who disagree with him.

It's funny, isn't it, that one of the arguments for affirmative action is to create role models for youngsters. Yet the Thomas haters can't find a place in their narrow pantheon for the man from Pin Point, Georgia, who rose to the highest court in the land.

Funny, isn't it, that so many American blacks take pride in Louis Farrakhan and despise Clarence Thomas.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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