When the highly anticipated Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors on September 24, 2016, one name was noticeably absent from their displays. During their 13 years of preparation, they failed to find space to include any acknowledgement of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. They did, however, find several places to honor Anita Hill.
Hill’s 15 minutes of fame occurred during Thomas’ 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearing. She accused Thomas of sexual harassment. Democrats paraded her in front of Congress trying desperately to derail the confirmation of the second African-American Supreme Court Justice. For this, the Smithsonian Institute praises Hill for her courage while ignoring Thomas’ achievement. They also credit her for motivating women activists.
Hill enjoys several references throughout the museum while Thomas is just an inconvenient stepping stone in her greatness. No mention of Thomas’ life or his inspiring rise to the Supreme Court appear anywhere in the museum.
People are rightfully furious. Many inquiries flooded the museum demanding an explanation. Chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian, Linda St. Thomas, replied in an email stating:
“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.However, we cannot tell every story in our inaugural exhibitions.”
Except choosing to highlight Anita Hill over Clarence Thomas in the opening exhibits is a blatantly obvious conscious decision.
Unsatisfied with St. Thomas’ explanation, 17 Congressmen expressed their displeasure in a letter last week to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. David J. Shorten.
The congressmen wrote:
“The background and accomplishments of Justice Thomas are worthy of inclusion in the museum on their own merits. Justice Thomas’ contributions to the judicial system through his appointment to the highest court in the country cannot be discounted. It is a disservice to his legacy and to the history of this nation to mention his name in a single caption, but provide no other exhibit showcasing his story.
“The National Museum of African American History and Culture states that it is an institution where ‘anyone is welcome to participate, collaborate, and learn more about African American history and culture.’ Justice Thomas’ exclusion from the new museum has led some to draw conclusions of a political bias in the curation of an institution that should be above reproach.”
The letter concludes with the following request:
“With this in mind, we insist that you provide an explanation about the conspicuous absence of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from the new museum, and of any future plans to feature him in a permanent exhibit.”
Citizens have also expressed their dissatisfaction in an online petition. Addressed to the founding director of the museum, Dr. Lonnie Bunch III, it reads in part:
“He has established himself as one of the brightest legal minds of his generation, yet the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture fails to include any mention of his numerous accolades. Curators at the museum singled out Thomas due to his unique views on race and his conservative thought that the federal government is the greatest threat to our individual liberties.”
The petition has garnered over 8,000 signatures so far. It is just shy of the 10,000 needed before it can be forwarded to Dr. Bunch.
Americans must continue to call out these hypocrites for who they are, racist political partisans. Character should not be defined by the political letter behind your name. Character should be measured by how you live your life in spite of it.
But that’s just my 2 cents.