The new Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture’s tagline is “powerful moments in African-American history, culture, and community.” However, the museum which contains a collection of more than 36,000 artifacts and 100,000 people represented does not include many prominent blacks, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Of the 112 justices appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court since its inception, only two have been black — and the second one apparently isn’t worth consideration, as far as the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture is concerned.
“Justice Thomas is the longest-serving black justice in our history, he’s amassed over 500 opinions,” said Mark Paoletta, a longtime friend who helped shepherd his nomination as a White House lawyer. “And yet you would learn nothing of that in this museum, and that’s a shame.”
The Smithsonian museum still has “no plans” to include in its exhibitions a reference to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the high court’s conservative stalwarts who celebrates his 25th anniversary on the bench this year, the Washington Times reports.
When asked by CNSNews.com:
“Many prominent African-Americans are not included in the museum, most notably Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas … Can [the institute say] why Thomas and the others listed below are not a part of the museum exhibits?”
Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian, replied:
“There are many compelling personal stories about African-Americans who have become successful in various fields, and, obviously, Associate Justice Thomas is one of them,” St. Thomas said in an email. “However, we cannot tell every story in our inaugural exhibitions.
“We will continue to collect and interpret the breadth of the African-American experience,” St. Thomas said.
John Eastman, founding director of the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, says Justice Thomas’ exclusion from the African-American museum is part of a broader effort to disappear black conservatives who deign to think for themselves.
“The persistent efforts to undermine Justice Thomas and his compelling body of jurisprudence, and to ignore the spectacular Horatio Alger story of his life, are part of a deliberate strategy to silence a conservative voice from someone who might serve as a transformative role model in the African-American community in particular, and the American community more broadly,” says Mr. Eastman, a former clerk for Justice Thomas. “Sad, really, that the taxpayer-financed institutions of our own government would join in such efforts.”
A petition was started in October calling on the Smithsonian to include Thomas. The Smithsonian has stated that not everybody’s story could be put on exhibit when the museum first opened.
Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) introduced a resolution on Monday evening in the Senate calling on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture to recognize Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Thomas is only featured in a sizable display about Anita Hill, who became famous while accusing Thomas of sexual harassment during Thomas’ confirmation hearings.
The resolution calls on the museum to place Thomas in a prominent location in the museum. Cornyn is joined by fellow Republican Senators Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Lee (Utah), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) in sponsoring the measure.
The museum does have is a prominent display of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of creating a hostile work environment while her supervisor at a federal agency. She outlined her allegations during Thomas’ 1991 confirmation hearings, and the candid discussion rocked the nation.
The museum panel has a picture of Hill speaking, with the caption, “Her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee provoked serious debates on sexual harassment, race loyalty, and gender roles.”
Another section notes, “Outraged by Hill’s treatment by the all-male Senate committee, women’s groups organized campaigns to elect more women to public office.” The exhibit also includes a pink button from the era: “I believe Anita Hill.”
But it contains no pictures, quotes or memorabilia from the justice himself.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott praised the National Museum of African-American History and Culture when it first opened in the fall.
But the South Carolina Republican is now saying curators of the museum, an affiliate of Smithsonian Institution, neglected to include an exhibit on a crucial figure: Clarence Thomas, the second black Supreme Court justice to sit on the highest bench in the land.
“I sincerely hope that a museum that has done so much right in telling the history of African-Americans will not deny generations of Americans the privilege of experiencing Justice Thomas’s incredible and inspirational story,” Scott wrote in a letter to Smithsonian Director David Skorton, Under Secretary for Smithsonian Museums and Research Richard Kurin and NMAAHC Director Lonnie Bunch.
Linda St. Thomas, chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian, said the museum still has “no plans” to include a mention of Justice Thomas in any of its exhibitions.
“We do not have plans to create an exhibition on Justice Clarence Thomas or any Supreme Court justice as part of the museum’s inaugural exhibitions,” Ms. St. Thomas told the Washington Times. “The museum’s exhibitions are based on themes, not individuals.”
The late Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first black justice, figures in the museum for his role as an attorney in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark 1954 case that launched public school desegregation nationwide. Marshall’s membership card from a black fraternity is also on display, and the museum’s online database shows three black-and-white pictures of the jurist.
When visitors search for Clarence Thomas, who succeeded Marshall on the high court, as of now those searches will still come up empty.