School Withdraws Speaking Invitation for Justice Thomas
May. 29, 1996
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) _ In a move tinged with racial politics, a predominantly black school district in a suburb of Washington withdrew a speaking invitation to Clarence Thomas, the only black justice on the Supreme Court.
Thomas' invitation to address a June 10 awards ceremony at the Thomas Pullen Creative and Performing Arts School was withdrawn after a school board member complained that Thomas' work on the court had hurt black people.
``Justice Thomas has not represented the interests of black people during his tenure on the Supreme Court,'' said Prince George's County school board member Kenneth E. Johnson, who also is black.
``He is determined to make black youths' lives harder than was his or mine by removing mechanisms such as affirmative action that benefited him throughout his adult life,'' Johnson said.
The incident was ``another indication of the continuing alienation of the black community from Justice Thomas,'' said Georgetown University law professor Mark Tushnet, a frequent critic of the justice.
Thomas, who replaced liberal Thurgood Marshall, has established himself as one of the high court's most politically conservative justices. He has voted to curtail affirmative action programs aimed at giving special help to racial minorities, and to make it harder to draw election districts aimed at giving minorities greater political clout.
Thomas, who had no comment on the controversy, frequently plays host at his Supreme Court offices for informal meetings with local school groups, many of them predominantly black. He often offers talks aimed at inspiring young students to achieve their academic potential.
Parents of children at the school, which includes kindergarten through grade eight, were divided on whether the invitation should have been rescinded.
Parent Ann Jackson said it would have been a rare opportunity for many of the black students to hear from a Supreme Court justice.
``You can disagree with someone's politics, but that doesn't mean you have the right to censor what they say,'' she said. ``Children are smart, they know when someone is speaking from their heart, and Mr. Thomas should have gotten the opportunity to say what he had to say.''
And parent Marie Smith said, ``Anybody who didn't want to hear what he had to say could have gotten up to leave before he spoke, or could have stayed home.''
But Stuart Scott, who said he has two children at the school, said he agreed with the stand that Johnson took.
``Blacks have had to fight in the streets and in the courts to win their rights and dignity as human beings, and now the second black Supreme Court justice wants to turn the clock back,'' said Scott. ``No, he should not have been invited to speak.''
Johnson said he and two other black board members initially discussed organizing a boycott of the event. And school system spokesman W. Christopher Cason said there also had been some outside resistance to Thomas' appearance, which had been arranged by Principal Kathy Kurtz, who is white.
Cason said several parents of students, and others in the community, had indicated to Superintendent Jerome Clark, who is black, that ``they would participate in any demonstrations protesting Justice Thomas' appearance.''
``If that had occurred, it would have detracted from the students' achievements, and the superintendent didn't want anything to occur that would have focused attention away from the students,'' Cason said.
Prince George's County has 772,000 residents, a little more than half of whom are black. With an average household income of $50,988, it is the most affluent predominantly black community in the nation.
In 1992, Thomas canceled an appearance at Seton Hall University's law school after learning that a women's group was planning a protest.
Early on, small and peaceful protest demonstrations occasionally accompanied his appearance on college campuses.
Last year, he spoke at the University of Mississippi, Brigham Young, Pepperdine and Louisiana State universities, and no protests were reported.