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Thomas Says, 'I Am Not an Uncle Tom' : Supreme Court: The justice holds rare meeting with an invited group of African Americans. He reportedly tells foes to 'get over it.'

October 28, 1994|JOAN BISKUPIC | THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — In an extraordinary meeting with an invited group of black journalists and other African Americans, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas rejected suggestions that his opinions have hurt blacks or that he has forgotten his roots.

"I am not an Uncle Tom," he answered when asked about selling out to whites, according to a report in Thursday's Washington Afro-American newspaper that was confirmed by several people who were at the Wednesday meeting. "I do not pay attention to that nonsense. That is one of the problems we have as black people. We don't allow differing views."

Repeating a vow he has made before to remain on the court in spite of his critics, Thomas said: "I'm going to be here for 40 years. For those who don't like it, get over it."

Justices virtually never hold on-the-record meetings with the press. And Thomas, appointed in 1991, has been the most media-shy of all the current justices. He has turned down interviews and repeated requests for informal visits from many publications.

Thomas defended his version of a "colorblind Constitution."

"I disagree with the prevailing point of view of some black leaders that special treatment for blacks is acceptable," the Afro-American newspaper reported.

Thomas also was quoted as saying: "It would seem that some black people want to say that when you, as a black, become successful, you cease to be black. That's ridiculous. If a white person becomes successful, (does he) cease to be white?"

Participants in Wednesday's session said it was designed to appeal to Thomas' black constituency. Armstrong Williams, a longtime Thomas friend who brought the group together, said he chose people who would be open to seeing Thomas as a "human being."

Williams, a local business executive and radio host who served as Thomas' confidential assistant at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has been a vocal supporter of Thomas. He said Thomas had "nothing to do" with selecting the group at Wednesday's meeting.

Responding to the fact that no whites were there, Williams said: "It had nothing to do with race. I found people who wanted to know him. . . . I have an obligation to have him portrayed differently." He argues that the media have painted Thomas as "a monster."

Williams said he intends to take a handpicked group of reporters to the court every three months. He said he would choose only those who had demonstrated that they would be fair to Thomas.

Court public information officer Toni House said Thomas would not comment on the meeting.

Of about 30 people who attended, Williams said, five were journalists. They were James Wright of the Afro-American; Barry Murray of New Dimensions publishing; Ernest White, a talk show host on WDCU-radio; Raynard Jackson of National Minority Politics, and a reporter from Black Professional magazine in Baltimore.

Donna Brazile, a longtime liberal activist, said she was ambivalent, given her liberal views, about visiting Thomas.

But she said Thursday that she was struck by Thomas' willingness to reach out.

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