"The assumption was that you only have that because you're black, and it's not as good as the white kids," Thomas says. "And that would be, again, one of the things that would happen when I was nominated to the Court — that I couldn't possibly be as good as the white Yale graduates, because I obviously went to Yale because of the color of my skin. So everything was discounted.
"And I always find it fascinating that people who claim, well, you did this because you went to Yale, all these good things happened because you went to Yale," Thomas says. "I couldn't get a job out of Yale Law School."
Thomas came to believe whites assumed he wasn't as smart as his white Yale classmates, and when he couldn't get a job when he was graduating, he saw that as proof: Because he was black, he says, people believed his degree was not as good as a white student's degree. He saw no "benefit" from affirmative action.
"I was humiliated," he wrote, "and desperate." He peeled a 15-cent sticker off a package of cigars and stuck it on the frame of his degree "to remind myself of the mistake I'd made by going to Yale."
"I never did change my mind about its value," he wrote. "I stored it in the basement of my Virginia home — with the sticker still on the frame."
Unable to get a job at a law firm, the Yale network nonetheless helped him get work. Alumnus John Danforth, then the attorney general of Missouri who would play a prominent role in Thomas's life, offered him a position as a lawyer in office.
Thomas says Danforth had none of the condescension he'd seen from other eastern elites, and that he vowed to treat him like everyone else. But he was "dubious about working for a Republican," because he saw himself then as a moderate or libertarian.
"I never said I was a conservative. That just was not part of my thinking. If anything, I considered myself more of a libertarian. I was a registered independent politically and had found it very difficult to go work for a Republican," Thomas says.
He recalls, for example, Danforth stopping by his office when the attorney general was preparing to argue a case defending abortion restrictions. Danforth's position was that the federal government had no business telling the states what to do on abortion. Thomas responded: "The state had no business telling women what to do with their bodies."
He was the only black attorney in the office, but he wrote that he begins to relax and that soon Jefferson City "felt like home." He spends much of his time in court, trying cases and arguing appeals, and he liked the objective nature of his work.
He also begins to see a real evolution of his ideological views in Jefferson City. He pulls ideas from his grandfather, from his experiences at Holy Cross and Yale, from current events — like the battle over school busing, which he strongly opposed (and vowed never to send his son to a public school because of it).
"There was no pressure to play the black role or to play the victim role or anything. You were just… you were you. And so you started thinking about things more deeply. You started debating them, discussing them with friends who would be honest with you about what they thought," Thomas says.