Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out

"I left my wife and child. It was the worst thing I've done in my life, worse even than going back on my promise to Daddy that I would finish my seminary studies and become a priest," Thomas wrote. "I still live with the guilt, and always will."

It was, Thomas wrote, a time of complete despair, when he "could barely bring myself to look in the mirror." He was sleeping on the floor of his friend Gil Hardy's apartment, and his financial difficulties continued to mount. He wrote of having to decide whether to eat at Burger King or ride the bus.

In late spring of 1981, Thomas was offered a position in the Reagan Administration as assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education. His first instinct, he wrote, was to say no. "I was sure I'd been singled out solely because I was black, which I found demeaning," he wrote. But a friend tells him he can do something about racial problems or stop talking about them, to "put up or shut up."

At the Department of Education, one of Thomas's first hires would, as he wrote, turn out to be a "fateful blunder." His friend Gil Hardy asked him to "help a sister" who was leaving her law firm, so Thomas agreed to hire Anita Hill. Thomas wrote that he asked Hill why she was leaving her prestigious law firm, and she says she couldn't get a recommendation from a partner who "had asked her out, and when she declined he'd started giving her bad work assignments and performance assessments."

Thomas wrote that he decided to hire Hill — even though she said she "detested" Reagan — because he felt an "obligation to help my fellow blacks" and "remembered how hard it had been for me to land a job after graduating from Yale."

"I didn't want to treat her as I had been treated," Thomas wrote. "Her work wasn't outstanding, but I found it adequate."

In the Reagan Administration, Thomas wrote that he continues to feel isolated — not only from black liberals, but from white conservatives. Some white aides didn't trust black conservatives, he wrote, and believed no black could truly be conservative — which was as "ugly as the liberal belief that no sane black could work for Reagan."

"Early on, that was the case, that you were sort of in this no-man's land, that you didn't fit in, again, in either camp," Thomas says. "It's just like when I was in the seminary."

Thomas has discussed in speeches that he almost resigned over a controversy involving Bob Jones University, which banned interracial dating, and he describes the incident in the book. The IRS had revoked the school's tax exempt status because of its discriminatory policies, and the Justice Department decided not to pursue it.

Thomas wrote he was "shocked when the Justice Department backed down… This made us feel like non-entities within the administration and exposed us to scorn and ridicule from without." He says the case "destroyed the administration's credibility on race relations."

Thomas faults the Reagan administration for failing to advance a positive civil rights agenda, and instead only railed against quotas and racial preferences. It's hard to understand why Thomas stayed in the administration, but he wrote that he decided to do so because he believed he could solve specific problems and was determined to defend historically black colleges and universities.

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