"Some of the things I've said have proven to be true. I tried just to have a discussion about it, but you can't," Thomas says. "Everything has to be white against black. You can't honestly sit down and talk about responsibilities, personal responsibility, crime or the educational process."
Thomas says he says he doesn't read the media's coverage of him today, which he calls "irrelevant and dishonest."
"I just think it's a poor way to do your job. That's just my view," he says. "And one of the vows I made when I got here was that I would never do this job as poorly as journalists do theirs."
In 1986, Thomas met Virginia Lamp, a lobbyist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He says he had "no inclination to date outside my race," and other books on Thomas have indicated he believed as a college student that blacks should not be so taken with the idea of dating whites.
"You get trapped by your bigotry, your own reaction to other people's bigotry, and in a sense you begin to absorb it yourself and take it on, where you have these artificial lines," Thomas says. "I remember being at home sometimes, praying to God for someone to come into my life who was just everything I had wanted her to be — and then she shows up, and she happens to be white. And so you just couldn't allow race to enter into it."
Some of the older members of Virginia's family in Nebraska were not so sure, and when she introduced them to Thomas at a family gathering, she recalled an uncle standing off by himself in the corner, his arms crossed disapprovingly. Again, Thomas was called to navigate a situation he'd long experienced, and again he sought a common bond.
"He went right up to my uncle — who had his arms crossed — and he started talking," Virginia recalls in an interview while sitting with Thomas in their spacious Virginia home. "Clarence talked about what my uncle did, about being a farmer and about what he did on the farm and the hogs and the cattle and the things my uncle was interested in, and, sure enough, after a while, they were all talking about the things they had in common."
When asked how he learned to navigate prejudices and bigotry, Thomas refers back to his time in the all-white seminary, when he confronted racist views. He says experiences like that "teach you not to get into the swill with the people who are trying to pull you in." And he refers to his encounters with whites today.
"On the issue of prejudice, a lot of that come out of ignorance. Once we got a chance to talk… it was gone immediately," he says of his conversation with Virginia's uncle. "He was just acting out of what he knew, and what he knew, when proven wrong, he totally changed."
"Again, I contrast that with the intentional bigotry of those who are elite," Thomas says. "It's well thought out, it's planned, it's malicious."
The couple married a year later, and Thomas wrote that he finally found "peace." With help from Virginia's parents, they bought a house and made friends with their neighbors. Thomas describes a time of planting tulips, going for long drives and cooking out on the deck.
"It was just a regular life," says Thomas. "Home was in Georgia, but I was happy where I was, and we were happy together in our little home, and it was just wonderful. It was a very, very good life."
To continue on to Part VI: Becoming a Judge — and perhaps a Justice, please click here.