"The change was that I wasn't drinking this sort of ideological Kool-aid anymore," Thomas says. "I was trying to think things through, which was very important to me, and the more I thought, the more isolated I felt, because I was deviating from the prevailing wisdom about things like busing, etc."
As a black man he is again alone — this time ideologically, and "loneliness breeds doubts," he wrote. When a colleague told him about a review of a book by Thomas Sowell, the conservative black economist, and Thomas wrote that he drank his words like a man dying of thirst.
Thomas wrote that he had always assumed whites — liberals and conservatives, northerners and southerners — were different breeds of snakes, drawing on a metaphor he heard as a child from his grandfather when they walked in the woods of rural Georgia. The pandering and paternalistic liberal was the water moccasin; the hostile conservative was like the rattlesnake. But he finds himself agreeing with Sowell, "a black man who talked hard common sense about race" and was featured in the pages of the conservative Wall Street Journal.
"I was not becoming conservative," Thomas says. "I was just becoming a thinking person."
Thomas wrote in the book about his desire to return home to Georgia, and his dream of helping fellow blacks after his own experiences. Yet he decided instead to take a job in the legal department of Monsanto and stay in Missouri. In an interview, Thomas says he wanted to start in a corporation with the "eventual hope" that he would go home and run a business. He also said the decision was a financial one, and that he was increasingly unhappy in the corporate legal environment.
At Monsanto, Thomas says he spent many long lunches with the only other black in the company's legal department, Larry Thompson, who, at Thomas's urging, would leave the company to be a federal prosecutor in Atlanta and ultimately become the deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.
The two talked about race and their determination not to be cast as stereotypes or in "race jobs" that whites thought blacks should have. Thomas had disdain for the black manager in charge of the company's affirmative action compliance plan, who he describes as seeing people as "numbers" and being unconcerned about their progress once he met his quotas. Thomas says he wanted to change the world in more practical, pragmatic ways that didn't put blacks in boxes.
To continue on to Part IV: A Conservative in Washington — And the Personal Struggles, please click here.