By Robert Barnes, Michael A. Fletcher and Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Justice Clarence Thomas settles scores in an angry and vivid forthcoming memoir, scathingly condemning the media, the Democratic senators who opposed his nomination to the Supreme Court, and the "mob" of liberal elites and activist groups that he says desecrated his life.
"My Grandfather's Son," for which Thomas has received a reported $1.5 million, is a 289-page memoir of his life in rural Georgia, his reliance on religious faith and his rise to the high court. His book ends with the day he was sworn in and contains only fleeting mentions of his time on the bench.
Thomas lovingly describes the iron-willed grandfather who raised him after his own father abandoned him as a toddler, praises the Roman Catholic Church for providing him with an education but criticizes it for not being as "adamant about ending racism then as it is about ending abortion now," and gives a detailed description of the confirmation hearings that electrified the nation in 1991 and the sexual harassment allegations by Anita Hill that he said destroyed his reputation.
They are the most extensive comments Thomas has made about Hill since his confirmation. Though he has given numerous speeches since he has been on the court, he has rarely mentioned Hill or spoken in detail about the nomination fight. In the book, Thomas writes that Hill was the tool of liberal activist groups "obsessed" with abortion and outraged because he did not fit their idea of what an African American should believe.
"The mob I now faced carried no ropes or guns," Thomas writes of his hearings. "Its weapons were smooth-tongued lies spoken into microphones and printed on the front pages of America's newspapers. . . . But it was a mob all the same, and its purpose -- to keep the black man in his place -- was unchanged."
Thomas, 59, says in the foreword to the book, due to go on sale Monday, that he wrote it to "leave behind an accurate record of my own life as I remember it" rather than leave it to those "with careless hands or malicious hearts." He indicates he wrote it himself, with editing help from three others.
It has been eagerly awaited, especially in the conservative community, which is playing an active role in promoting it. The Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society and the National Center for Policy Analysis are sponsoring a six-city book tour, in which patrons will pay $30 to attend events in Thomas's honor.
The normally media-shy justice has interviews booked on "60 Minutes" tomorrow night and ABC on Monday as well as a 90-minute interview with radio host Rush Limbaugh, also scheduled for Monday. The book's contents had been closely guarded before its publication date of Oct. 1, the first day of the Supreme Court's new term, but The Washington Post purchased a copy yesterday at an area bookstore, where it had been placed on display.
Thomas writes of the hard lessons doled out by his grandfather, Myers Anderson, who raised him after his father abandoned the family and his mother was unable to care for her boys in Pin Point, Ga. "In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son," Thomas writes, hence the title of the memoir.
Thomas's depiction of his grandfather is of a man unsparingly tough. Anderson wouldn't let him play on sports teams or join the Cub Scouts.
When Thomas informed the family that he was dropping out of the seminary, against the wishes of his grandfather, he learned, to his surprise, that Anderson had retreated to his garage and cried. Then his grandfather kicked him out of the house, telling him: "I'm finished helping you. You'll have to figure it out yourself. You'll probably end up like your no-good daddy or those other no-good Pinpoint Negroes."
After graduating from Yale Law School in 1974, Thomas spent the summer in St. Louis studying for the bar exam, where he was once so pressed for money that he attempted to sell his blood at a blood bank. He was turned down because his pulse rate was too low.
Throughout the book, Thomas describes himself as under siege -- variously from preening elites, light-skinned African Americans and critics who object to his conservative politics. Feeling under duress from civil rights leaders, and despondent over reports he was reading about the poor achievement of African American students in high school, Thomas writes that he simply sat at his desk at the Department of Education one evening and wept.
After the death of his grandfather and grandmother in 1983 and with his first marriage on the rocks, Thomas says he had a fleeting thought of suicide. "I'd actually reached the point where I wondered whether there was any reason for me to go on," he writes. "The mad thought of taking my own life fleetingly crossed my mind. Of course, I didn't consider it seriously, if only because I knew I couldn't abandon [my son] Jamal as I had been abandoned by C," which is how he refers to his father, M.C. Thomas.
Racial imagery abounds in "My Grandfather's Son," a continuation of his description of the Senate hearings as a "high-tech lynching."
"As a child in the Deep South, I'd grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan; as an adult, I was starting to wonder if I'd been afraid of the wrong white people all along," he writes. "My worst fears had come to pass not in Georgia, but in Washington, D.C., where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony."
Thomas writes that he did not watch Hill's televised testimony against him at his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, and so he does not respond in detail to her charges except to call them lies. He describes Hill as "touchy and apt to overreact" and says: "If I or anyone else had done the slightest thing to offend her, she would have complained loudly and instantly, not waited for a decade to make her displeasure known."
He writes that Hill did a "mediocre" job at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was chairman, and misrepresented herself at the time of the hearings as a "devoutly religious Reagan-administration employee." "In fact, she was a left-winger who'd never expressed any religious sentiments" and had a job in the administration "because I'd given it to her."
Thomas has particularly caustic comments about the Democratic senators who opposed his nomination. He compares then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) to the lying hypocrites in the old song "Smiling Faces Sometimes" by Undisputed Truth. About former senator Howard Metzenbaum (Ohio): "It would be kind to describe him as unlikable."
And Howell Heflin, the late senator from Alabama, was described by the press as "courtly," Thomas says, but his manner "made me think of a slave owner sitting on the porch of a plantation house."
Thomas has been a sharp critic of affirmative action and the use of racial classifications in schools, but he acknowledges in the book that he was admitted to Yale Law School in 1971 partly because he was black. "I'd graduated from one of America's top law schools -- but racial preference had robbed my achievement of its true value."
Thomas describes his confirmation hearing as a gut-wrenching experience. When told by an aide to President George H.W. Bush that he was under consideration for the high court, "I tried to think of a way to convince President Bush to choose somebody else."
When the time came, of course, he accepted. But that night, he writes, he told his wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas, "You know that some of my opponents are going to try to kill me." Thomas continues: "Of course I didn't mean it literally, but I did feel that there was a sense in which my whole life was at stake. I'd grown up in a part of America where a black man was defenseless against the accusations of any white person -- especially a woman. The fear and vulnerability that I had known then came back to haunt me now."
Thomas credits his mentor, former Missouri senator John C. Danforth, and his wife for getting him through the hearings, and he says his faith was a critical resource: "Each day I left the Caucus Room tired, tormented and anxious, and each day Virginia and I bathed ourselves in God's unwavering love."
But by the time he was confirmed, he said, the prize meant little. Instead of watching the Senate roll call, he drew himself a bath. His wife came to tell him he had been confirmed 52 to 48.
"Whoop-dee-damn-doo," Thomas writes.
Staff writer William Wan contributed to this report.