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Raw deal! Black GOP lawmakers call on Smithsonian to update Justice Thomas exhibit

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Black lives matter unless you are a conservative?

A group of Republican lawmakers led by first-term U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida have called upon the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to update its exhibit honoring the life and achievements of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. They contend that the existing display falls short, especially as compared to the coverage of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the man he replaced on the country’s most important bench. “This museum must encapsulate [Thomas’] life as it does for hundreds of other monumental Black figures,” Donalds declared in a missive.

“Clarence Thomas..is a notable figure in Black history and American history as one of only two Black men to serve on the nation’s highest court,” Donalds wrote to the museum in the letter that was also signed by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, Dr. Alveda King, and others, Fox News reported.

As a descendant of slaves, Justice Thomas “persevered to become a stalwart figure in the American judicial system and history,” Donalds  — who represents Florida’s 19th congressional district in the Fort Myers area noted.

“As a Black man who has a profound respect for the contributions Justice Thomas has propitiated for generations to come, this museum must encapsulate his life as it does for hundreds of other monumental Black figures,” Donalds added. He also alluded to the possibility that partisanship may be having an impact on the current lackluster Thomas exhibit.

On July 1, 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas, who was then a judge on the prestigious D.C. circuit and prior to that the chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to succeed Justice Marshall, an icon of civil rights. Thomas is currently the longest-serving member of the high court, closing in on 30 years.

The Democrat-controlled Senate narrowly confirmed him on October 15, 1991, after contentious Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings (whose chair was Joe Biden at the time) after sexual harassment allegations leveled by Anita Hill. Thomas denied the allegations, famously calling the controversy a high-tech lynching from the left.

The ordeal that then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh went through in 2018 over unfounded accusations was perhaps Thomas 2.0.

When the African American museum opened in 2016, it apparently only focused on the Hill allegations rather than highlighting his accomplishments. Things improved to some degree a year later, although Thomas said at the time that the museum never consulted with him on it.

“The exhibit features a photograph of Thomas at his Supreme Court investiture on Nov. 1, 1991, a picture of him as an undergraduate at the College of the Holy Cross and a copy of Jet magazine with his image on the cover,” and a short biography, the Washington Post reported in 2019. “Where Marshall advocated judicial action, Thomas encouraged judicial restraint,” the text reads.

Thomas, 72, has been a solid constitutional conservative on the court and has not moved to the liberal direction unlike a number of disappointing Republican appointees over the years.

Sen. Tim Scott expressed hope that the museum “would represent Clarence Thomas the same way they have other distinguished Black Americans like Justice Thurgood Marshall.”

U.S. Rep. Owens similarly added that “As one of the only two Black men to serve on our nation’s highest and most distinguished court, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas deserves unbiased recognition from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.”

He urged the museum to “appropriately honor the continued legacy of Justice Thomas, especially as we celebrate Black History Month and the many trailblazers who faced the odds to secure the dreams of future generations.”

The museum has not, as yet, responded to news media inquiries about the lawmakers’ request.

Robert Jonathan

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