Danforth moved to Washington, and Thomas decided in 1979 to join his staff, although he said, as he and Thompson had often discussed, he did not want to focus on civil rights. He also realized he lacked courage: He had once condemned blacks who thought like Sowell as "Uncle Toms," and he wrote that he realized he would face a similar fate. He was not ready to do it.
These years of Thomas's life are bleak, and the book is, at times, painful to read. He still is estranged from his grandfather, and his marriage is failing. He is unsure about his career path and struggling financially. He wrote about his feelings of hopelessness, as well as and his financial difficulties and his drinking, which he says had begun to increase.
"I drank more heavily than ever before, and though I was careful not to let my drinking interfere with my work, I knew I was on the road to trouble," Thomas wrote.
A friend suggested they train for the Marine Corps Marathon, and Thomas — having never run a marathon — begins training in June for the 26-mile race in November. He wrote that he began to see it as a metaphor for his life: "You paid the price and suffered or you didn't." He wrote that when he ran the race, he hit "the wall," and believed his legs would give way. He whispered over and over to himself, 'never quit, never quit, never quit' and barely made it to a water stop staffed by a young Marine.
"God, this is hard," Thomas told him.
"That's what you asked for," the Marine replied, without a trace of sympathy.
Thomas wrote that he "shook off my self pity" and crossed the finish line three hours and 11 minutes after he started. In the book, he compares the Marine to his grandfather and contrasts him with ambitious politicians who make 'empty promises" to smoothly assure constituents: Tell me where it hurts and I'll make it better.
Working for Danforth, Thomas continued to debate among his colleagues and other friends on the Hill about race. "I was just a low-level assistant, and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the back-and-forth, because it was in that way that I felt we would ultimately find some solutions, honest debate, constructive debate," he says.
That fall, in 1980, he changed his voter registration to Republican and voted for Ronald Reagan. He wrote that Reagan was "promising to get government off our backs and out of our lives, putting an end to the indiscriminate social engineering of the 1960s and 1970s. I thought blacks would be better off if they were left alone."
In December of that year, Thomas attended a conference in San Francisco at Sowell's invitation and struck up a conversation with journalist Juan Williams, who would write a column about it for the Washington Post. The column included Thomas's remarks about his sister being on welfare and how his career would be "irreparably ruined" if he took a job at an agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a similar post "directly connected with blacks."
"I was outed," Thomas says. "That's when I knew my life would change, and it did."
After Williams's piece appeared, Thomas wrote that he could choose between being an outcast or dishonest about his views. Drinking more heavily than before, he also had decided to leave his wife, which consumed him with guilt and made him think about his grandfather's prediction that he would become just like his "no-good daddy," who had abandoned his own family.