On a crisp morning, Thomas helped dedicate a Georgia historical marker noting the importance of Pin Point, where his birth and elevation to the Supreme Court was not the first accomplishment but simply the most recent.
And then, with the rest of the crowd, he walked the 7/10s of a mile to the other end of a community too small to be called a town.
There, a whitewashed new Pin Point Heritage Museum has taken the place of the seafood cannery where his mother once worked while her baby rested in a crab basket. Its aim is to tell the rich story of the freed Sea Islands slaves who founded Pin Point, and to preserve what some historians say is the last piece of Georgia coastline still owned mostly by African Americans.
“Let us just savor this miracle,” Thomas said when it was his turn at the pulpit of his mother’s packed Sweetfield of Eden Baptist Church. “Pin Point has a chance to survive.”
Pin Point is the world into which Thomas was born, but the museum is owed to the world in which Thomas now lives. His friend Harlan Crow, a wealthy Dallas developer who also donates to conservative political causes, has spent millions of dollars on the project.
That and other generosities to Thomas and his wife, Virginia, have given rise to ethics controversies in Washington. After a New York Times investigative report identified Crow as the museum’s anonymous donor and raised questions about trips Thomas took that Crow might have underwritten, government ethics groups and liberal organizations protested.
“Do Supreme Court justices get a pass on the ethical standards that every other judge must meet?” asked Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.
Others have said there is no prohibition against a justice’s friend spending money on such a project unless there was pressure to do so.
In his remarks, Thomas said that for years he was helpless when folks asked him to do something to preserve Pin Point, except to “hope and pray someone comes along.”
Thomas called Crow, who was not at the event, a “good man” who wants nothing in return for his generosity, but whose motives are being questioned.
If the property had not been bought as a museum site, said Hanif Haynes, president of the Pin Point Betterment Association, it likely would have been sold to developers and changed the nature of the place.
“I guess this is a way he feels he can give back to the community,” Hayne said of Thomas. “People aren’t concerned with who and how it was financed.”
Making a new life
The strip of land that is Pin Point is part of the congressionally designated Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor. There, freed slaves from Ossabaw and other islands were able to make a life from the shrimp, oysters and crabs that thrived in the coastal creeks.