Supreme Court justice should be welcomed at courthouse ceremony

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As soon as the announcement was made of the possible visit of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to the dedication of the Augusta-Richmond County Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse on May 18, lines were drawn in the sand.

The mere mention of the name of Clarence Thomas invokes the slur "Uncle Tom" in many people's minds. To some, Thomas is seen as a person who has issues of self-hatred. Although he has benefited from affirmative action, he is a staunch opponent of it.

HE MAINLY SHIES away from issues dealing with race, but when his confirmation hearings became testy, he did not hesitate to invoke images of lynchings. The notion that he is considered one of the most conservative Supreme Court judges who just happens to be married to a white woman does not help his image in many circles.

Not to mention the fact that the entertainment media, including comedy shows such as Mad TV and In Living Color, have painted a stereotypical caricature of Thomas as a kowtowing, boot-licking, sycophantic lap dog for the Republican party.

I have to admit that when it came to Justice Thomas, I too was influenced by the many comedy skits that questioned his blackness and integrity. But is Justice Thomas an Uncle Tom? And more importantly, should Justice Thomas have been invited to speak at the Ruffin courthouse dedication?

First, let's examine the misnomer of the slur "Uncle Tom" for people such as Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, Herman Cain, Armstrong Williams and any other black person who is perceived to be self-hating or amnesic with regard to their roots.

While doing research for my first book, Plain Talk, I had to change my whole idea of the character Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom, from the classic 1851 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin , was a great man. In fact, he was a better man than the slave-owners who enslaved him. Although he was a slave, he placed God's law above the laws of man when the two conflicted.

UNCLE TOM WAS a powerful man who refused to beat slaves when prompted by the master. Uncle Tom refused to disclose the whereabouts of two female slaves. His honor and integrity cost him his life, but his character had the intended effect of showing readers that slavery was an evil institution. His character also showed the humanity of enslaved Africans.

So the next time you call someone an Uncle Tom, think about what you are really calling him.

Uncle Tom's image over the years was distorted by the minstrel shows, who depicted him as a feeble old man with a receding hairline, who was a passive and servile race traitor. Has Justice Thomas' image been hijacked like Uncle Tom's?

Clarence Thomas was born into abject poverty in Pin Point, Ga., on June 28, 1948. He grew up in better conditions in Savannah, but still experienced many episodes of racism. Did Justice Thomas put up with racism in his early days? Absolutely not!

When a disparaging remark was made after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a seminary that he was attending, he walked away from being a priest. When he felt discriminated against as a student at Holy Cross, he participated in a walkout until his rights and dignity were restored. He had a poster of Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton on his wall in college. One of his favorite writers is Richard Wright.

But as Justice Thomas continued to rise in the ranks, he found that people attributed his achievements to his skin color. So at some point, he began to morph into his current ultra-conservative persona.

THE REASON MANY in the black community don't want Justice Thomas to speak at the dedication is the same reason that they didn't welcome his appointment as the second black Supreme Court Justice.

The man that Justice Thomas replaced, Thurgood Marshall, shared many of the same qualities as Judge Jack Ruffin. Both were tireless fighters for civil rights. Both men won landmark cases in the field of educational discrimination. Both men had the respect of both sides of the political aisle.

All of the previous traits that I mentioned for those two giants in the world of jurisprudence, are not attributed to Justice Thomas. Justice Thomas did not fight in high-profile court cases. He did not serve long as an actual judge. And his image and reputation have forever been sullied by the sexual harassment accusations of Anita Hill.

Let's not kid ourselves. Whenever a sitting Supreme Court justice makes an appearance anywhere , it is a major event. In fact, Justice Thomas is probably the most well-known of the Supreme Court justices. Since Justice Thomas doesn't make too many personal appearances, this will pop up on the national radar.

Augusta has a chance to entertain people who don't normally come here. Hopefully the best will be made of this situation. I for one would like for Justice Thomas to let his hair down and give us a taste of his first language -- Gullah. I for one would pay to see that!

(The writer is an author and a social studies teacher at John M. Tutt Middle School in Augusta.)

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mary.dits
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mary.dits 04/23/11 - 10:55 pm
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good column. as for the

good column. as for the headline the chronicle's gave this article, i was thinking we should welcome justice thomas too. i think it would be super cute for the kids to do something kind of laborious in honor of his reminders that child labor laws aren't in the constitution. gullah? wow. is that why he's so shy to talk? don't hide your light in a bushel, justice thomas!

wcorowitz
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wcorowitz 04/24/11 - 07:56 pm
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I wonder if Justice Thomas

I wonder if Justice Thomas will field questions?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/24/11 - 08:03 pm
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"I for one would like for

"I for one would like for Justice Thomas to let his hair down and give us a taste of his first language -- Gullah. I for one would pay to see that!"

Now THAT'S one of the strangest requests I've seen in a while. Reckon he could dance for us, too?

wcorowitz
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wcorowitz 04/24/11 - 10:17 pm
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Sounds like you don't respect

Sounds like you don't respect the Gullah culture. It may not be the Queen's language, but it served it's purpose. My obvious point is that Justice Thomas needs to dig into his past. Otherwise, what could he possibly have to say at the dedication. I see nothing demeaning or coonish about the Gullah language.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 04/25/11 - 08:19 am
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I like to hear Gullah....also

I like to hear Gullah....also Geechee....if you ever have the privilege of listening to some South Carolina folks from Beaufort-Yemessee-you will know what I'm talking about.....colorful-musical-tones...not only the blacks but the whites too....their voices are music to my ears....I had kin in Yemessee South Carolina.....cousins (first)....their daddy was an overseer at a huge plantation there...everyone on the plantation was a joy to hear.....good ole slow days of summer-watermelons....hay rides...I can almost smell the freshnesss of the grasses....good healthy seafood....ooooh if only we could re-live certain times again...

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/25/11 - 09:23 am
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Oh, I don't mind Gullah, I

Oh, I don't mind Gullah, I grew up in "Chaston."

Frank Gilbreth wrote Cheaper By the Dozen and a column for the Charleston Post Courier for 40 years. He wrote a hilarious book called the Dictionary of Charlestonese. It is mainly based on Gullah. Clicking on one section of the book I found the following. See if you can figure out the words.

I

ICE COOL — The institution of learning which stands midway between grammar school and college.

J

JELL — Place of confinement for criminals. Durance viol.

K

KIN — Something usually made of tin that food is packed in.

L

LACK — Enjoy, i.e. "I lack fried chicken."

LANE — Lying down.

LAWN — Not short.

LAYETTE — Tardy.

LAYMAN — A fruit from which layman-ade is made, i.e., "Is that your layman-ade?" "No, that's Pappa's-zone." "Well, poet back in the pitcher, 'cause Pappa's now drinking bare."

LEAN — A little road, i.e., "Lovers' Lean."

seenitB4
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seenitB4 04/25/11 - 09:38 am
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Riverman...you are too funny

Riverman...you are too funny this am.....btw...I knew all the words w/o looking at the definitions...:)

See..I would love your voice too.
I think your posts show that southern gentleman from Chaston..

GOB says I have work to do "round" hear....seeya later folks!

wcorowitz
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wcorowitz 04/26/11 - 01:29 am
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Who said the following: As a

Who said the following:

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."

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/26/11 - 06:41 pm
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Nice, Wcorowitz!!!

Nice, Wcorowitz!!!

WHEUBANKS
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WHEUBANKS 04/27/11 - 11:35 am
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I have known Justice Thomas

I have known Justice Thomas since 1963, and have never once heard him speak anything that even resembles Gullah. He has always had a deep voice and in high school spoke near perfect English. I'm not sure his grandfather would have put up with anything less

wcorowitz
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wcorowitz 10/02/11 - 06:35 am
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If Clarence Thomas were to

If Clarence Thomas were to come to Augusta today to dedicate the Ruffin courthouse, I would not welcome him. In fact, I am embarrassed that I even took a picture with him. I guess all of his critics were correct. Never put your trust in nobles, they will disappoint you all the time!!

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