It’s nearly impossible to mention Clarence Thomas without Anita Hill, and that’s even true for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. According to Circa.com, “The new Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture treats conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas like a mere footnote while heralding the woman who accused him of sexual harassment, Anita Hill.” And depending on who you ask, that’s either a good thing or problematic.
In 1991, Thomas became the second African American Supreme Court Justice after confirmation hearings that largely centered on accusations brought forth by Anita Hill resulted in the Senate upholding George H.W. Bush’s nomination in a vote of 52-48. Likewise, the Smithsonian’s mention of Thomas is relegated to his connection with Hill as well.
“Hill, the woman who accused Thomas of sexual harassment at his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings, gets plenty of attention,” Circa reports. “She is featured in the museum’s vignette to blacks in the 1990s and has her photo prominently shown along with multiple quotes about her.
“Thomas disputed Hill’s allegations and won confirmation, but his side of the story is mostly ignored in the exhibits. Museum officials acknowledged that Thomas has ‘very little presence’ in any of the exhibitions.”
But should he have more? Conservatives, of course, say yes. Mark Paoletta, a friend of Thomas’, wrote on The Hill, “Justice Thomas’ story of his rise from poverty to the Supreme Court should be known by all Americans. He grew up in the segregated deep south of coastal Georgia. Because of his Geechee heritage, he experienced discrimination from other African Americans as well as from whites.” Still, Thomas, widely regarded as the most conservative judge of the court, “has been derided by many liberals, including from the black community, as a puppet of Justice Scalia.” And as circa further pointed out, “It’s probable that the museum curators had no room for Thomas because his conservative views make him an ‘Uncle Tom.'”
One reason some might think as such is despite the fact that some have argued Thomas benefited from Affirmative Action (like being hired to replace Thurgood Marshall because he’s black), he was a vocal opponent of the policy. Does it make a lot of sense to include a Black American who doesn’t support policy that benefits Black Americans in a museum dedicated to our legacy? Clearly museum curators say no, though they did acknowledge they did not have a scholar or expert to do more on the controversial confirmation hearings that led to Thomas’ appointment. We’re sure if they really wanted to they could have. The question is, do we need more of Clarence Thomas in the National African American Museum?