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Clarence Thomas' 'My Grandfather's Son'

Posted By Ellis Washington On 10/20/2007 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

    The mob I now faced carried no ropes or guns. Its weapons were smooth-tongued lies spoken into microphones and printed on the front pages of America’s newpapers. It no longer sought to break the bodies of its victims. Instead, it devastated their reputations and drained away their hope. But it was a mob all the same, and its purpose – to keep the black man in his place.

    – Justice Clarence Thomas

    “My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir” (p. 269)

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The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, eloquently described a friend in this manner: “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” I cite this quote because, as I have just finished reading Justice Thomas’s memoir, I found many passages astonishingly similar to my own life (like one soul dwelling in two bodies); so much so that I had to put the book down repeatedly so I would not stain the pages with my tears; so raw the emotion so painful the rejection by those whom you thought would help you, but in your hour of greatest despair, instead, the only sound you heard was the cold, grave … silence of the lambs.

This column is in part a book review of Thomas’s superlative memoir, “My Grandfather’s Son,” but it is also a comparative analysis of my own precipitous journey
in the course of this life that so paradoxically mirrors my dear mentor and friend.

For the past 16 years that Justice Thomas has been on the Supreme Court, he has established a jurisprudence pedigree that, in my opinion, has already gone down in history as the most faithful jurist to the original intent of the Constitution’s Framers and the rule of law in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

I believe Justice Thomas has a judicial record that is even more praiseworthy than his early mentor, Antonin Scalia, as well as John Jay (the first chief justice), John Marshall (the second chief justice), Joseph Story, Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Earl Warren, William Brennan, William Rehnquist and yes, even Thomas’ predecessor, the venerable Thurgood Marshall who few constitutional scholars have the courage to admit could care less about what the original intent of the Constitution’s Framers was. And along with his“Scalia,” William Brennan, left a legacy of liberal activist jurisprudence and shameless legislating from the bench that their opinions are considered sacred scripture and revered orthodoxy by the law academy and in all Democrat circles, even to this day.


Below is a short comparative analysis of Justice Thomas’ life and work, and the similarity to my own:

  • Like Justice Thomas, I was rejected by my own father who named me after his father, my grandfather (“Ellis”). Like Justice Thomas’s grandfather (“Daddy”), my grandfather, in a sense, became my surrogate father until his untimely death in 1972 when I was 11 – my earliest memory of death.

  • Like Justice Thomas recorded the wonderful impact his grandfather had on his life, so did I in a book titled “Beyond the Veil: Essays in the Dialectical Style of Socrates. The essay regarding my grandfather was in the section “On Manhood” – essay No. 17: “Grandfather Ellis Washington (A Tale of Two Fathers).”

  • Like Justice Thomas, it took me many years to come to terms with my grandfather’s love because I secretly hated my father for abandoning my mother when I was only 18 months old. Like Justice Thomas, I only saw my father twice in my first 30 years of life.

  • Our grandfathers were from the same generation; men of the post-World War I, Jim Crow South who shared an unstoppable work ethic and moral resolve that was transcendent. I was fortunate; my grandfather was able to express his love to me more openly than Justice Thomas’ grandfather and, by his magnanimous nature, showered on my siblings and me many gifts and money whenever he came to visit.

  • Like Justice Thomas credits his grandfather with shaping his character, I attribute my grandfather’s magnanimous spirit to why I have given away most of the books and articles I’ve written through the years (amounting to more than $20,000) to family, friends, justices, think tanks, academics … and even strangers I’ve met on the streets.

  • We both drove our beloved old Volvos during law school, even though they had many mechanical issues.

  • We both share the same judicial philosophy (natural law, originalism, strict constructionist) and the same philosophy of life (Horatio Alger’s self-help, moral uprightness and individual responsibility) and use it as our philosophy of life and work.

  • We both share a love of great thinkers and books of the past (St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, the Constitution’s Framers, Booker T. Washington, Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Ralph Ellison’s “The Invisible Man,” the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams). I read all those works and writers virtually at the same period in my life as Thomas did.

  • Of the many outstanding passages from your memoir, one that was particularly poignant to me was the following – “I think segregation is bad, I think it’s wrong, it’s immoral. I’d fight against it with every breath in my body – but you don’t need to sit next to a white person to learn how to read and write” (p. 163-64). That succinct, sublime statement had the dual intent of killing racial segregation as a betrayal of the clause in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence – “All men are created equal,” and the latter part shows me that the celebrated 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was the moral thing to do, but tragically utilized the wrong judicial reasoning.

  • Both of us uniquely know the ever-painful sting of being rejected, slandered (and ignored) by your own people for merely having ideas that white liberals and black elites forbid any black person to have. I wrote of this Kafkaesque groupthink in the column “What is Plantation Liberalism?”

To you Justice Thomas. You neutralized “Delilah in a blue dress” (Anita Hill) and all of your enemies not with vitriol, but with truth. Your achievements, by overcoming so much, have paved the way for generations of future legal scholars, the underestimated, the iconoclastic and young people who are atypical thinkers to have hope.

Your book has taught me that despite not achieving all the desires of my heart, I must daily work to leave a viable legacy for my son, Stone, by following your sterling example of devotion to God, love of America, veneration of the Constitution and rigorous personal discipline that your “Daddy” bequeathed to you and to your little brother, Myers, during your formative years.

May “My Grandfather’s Son” be second only to the Holy Bible in the number of sales worldwide.



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“My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir”


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