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For the First Time, Clarence Thomas Tells His Story on Television

justice clarence thomas movie

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

He didn’t have a flushing toilet as a child and, when he finally moved into a house that had one, he was fascinated and continually flushed it – annoying his grandfather, who paid the water bill.

As a U. S. Supreme Court justice, his tastes are remarkably modest. His ideal vacation is driving cross-country in a 40-foot motor home, often staying in Walmart parking lots.

Clarence Thomas, the famously silent jurist, tells his own life story in a new documentary, “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” which makes its national television debut May 18 on PBS.

Clarence Thomas, left, and his brother Myers in their school uniforms. (Photo courtesy Clarence Thomas)

The two-hour film explores Thomas’ life, from his 1948 birth in the small town of Pin Point, Georgia, to his upbringing as a poor black kid in the segregated South, to his liberal phase in college, to his conversion to conservatism, to his rise to the nation’s highest court.

“I don’t expect that [Thomas] will convince you on the issues,” Pack said. “But I think it’s impossible to watch this film and not see that he’s a serious, thoughtful person—whose ideas are worth considering—with a very powerful and inspiring life story.”

After the retirement of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, Thomas was appointed to take his seat. His confirmation seemed assured until a former colleague from two of his prior executive branch jobs, Anita Hill, came forward with sexual harassment allegations, prompting an investigation from the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by then-Sen. Joseph Biden. Opinion polls at the time showed a small majority of the public believed Thomas should be confirmed, which he was 52-48 in 1991; Biden, the likely Democratic nominee for president, is facing his own uncorroborated sexual allegations.

Created Equal” gives the public a fuller picture of one of the nation’s most intriguing public figures, said Michael Pack, who directed the film and produced it with Gina Pack, his wife.

Michael Pack, filmmaker with a long history of producing public television and serving in Republican administrations, is from Maryland.

Thomas rarely speaks publicly—even during high court oral arguments. He told some of his personal story in a 2007 book, “My Grandfather’s Son.” Thomas wanted to go beyond the book, Pack said.

“He wanted something in the film and television world,” said Pack. “Not so much that he wanted it; his friends felt more strongly about this than Justice Thomas. …People were encouraging him to get the truth out there. He was a little reluctant, to be totally honest.”

Thomas approached Pack through mutual friends, Pack said.

It was not a random choice for Thomas and his wife, Virginia, to work with Pack. As president of Manifold Productions, Pack has produced a number of documentaries on conservative themes.

Pack served as senior vice president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which oversees PBS, from 2003 to 2006. He also served as president and CEO of the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank. In 2018, Trump nominated Pack as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America. Democratic senators raised questions about Pack’s film work with Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump.

A veteran of public broadcasting, Pack testified in front of a Senate committee last year. His nomination was scheduled for a committee vote this week, which was postponed.

Clarence Thomas plays with his young son, Jamal in 1974. (Photo courtesy Clarence Thomas)

Very little of the documentary covers Thomas’ Supreme Court career. Most of it is devoted to his childhood in the segregated South. More than three years in the making, the film draws from more than 30 hours of interviews with Thomas and his wife.

Thomas credits much of outlook on life to his hard-working, God-fearing grandfather who raised him and his younger brother after his single mother could not afford to care for them. “My grandfather understood that education was the key because he didn’t have it,” Thomas says in the film.

His initial reaction to the racism he experienced growing up in Georgia was to try to be perfect. But when he got to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, he started speaking out against racism, joining protest rallies and other activities in support of black activists, including the Black Panthers.

His relationship with his grandfather became “horrible,” Thomas said. After a violent protest disrupted campus, Thomas had second thoughts. He prayed, asking God to take the anger out of his heart. “That was the beginning,” he said, “of the slow return to where I started.”

When Thomas graduated from Yale Law School in 1974, unlike his classmates, he had trouble finding a job. He attributed that to potential employers assuming affirmative action was behind his acceptance to the prestigious law school.

Clarence Thomas’ Yearbook photo, 1967. (Photo Courtesy: Michael Pack)

Thomas eventually got a job offer from John Danforth, Missouri’s attorney general. Danforth was a Republican and Thomas initially felt that working for a Republican was “repulsive.” Nevertheless, he took the job. His experience there began to change his mind. He previously believed that much prosecution of African Americans was politically motivated. In the Missouri courts, he met black crime victims who led him to reconsider his views.

Next, Thomas worked for Monsanto and became disenchanted with what he perceived as half-hearted efforts by the agriculture company’s equal employment executives to advance black employees.

Thomas’ journey to conservatism was well underway when in 1979 he went back to work for Danforth, by then was a U.S. senator. Thomas was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to be chairman of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and a federal judge before his Supreme Court nomination.

The film’s title reflects Thomas’ belief the courts should adhere strictly to the original intent of the founding fathers, who wrote “All men are created equal” at the start of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas graduating from Yale Law School in May 1974. (Photo courtesy ClarenceThomas)

The film has gotten mixed reviews. A common criticism is that the documentary is one-sided. Pack acknowledges this criticism, but said it was a conscious artistic choice.

“Our documentary doesn’t pretend to be objective,” Pack said. “We were true to what we said we would deliver, which was a very important person’s view of the world. … It’s worth hearing.”

Including “in his own words” in the film’s title alerts viewers to the fact that it is not a balanced documentary, he said. His film is no different from many other documentaries that allow public figures to tell their own stories, Pack said.

One thing Pack did not allow was Thomas’ interference in the production of the documentary. The Supreme Court justice gave him “editorial independence” and a “high degree of trust,” Pack said.

Asked in a recent interview what Thomas’ reaction is to the film, Pack said: “He has yet to see it.”

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” will air on PBS stations around the country on Monday, May 18.

(Edited by Richard Miniter and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)

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Comment by mr1stroke on May 18, 2020 at 1:23am

Ok can you post all that you are saying from the prison reform, show us because many people have read it and ask the same question, how come black people are so against it, so if its not helping black people post it on here and show us why, otherwise we are not on here looking for opinions, you niggers have too many of that for too long, give us the facts

Comment by vaughn mitchell on May 17, 2020 at 8:05pm
Obama. People take notice you write something negative about Trump, on here cause Caribbean fever does not own this website, you start seeing a delete red sign next to your comments, or you have to go thru a song and a dance to prove your not a robot, I wonder why, the man is watching.
Comment by vaughn mitchell on May 17, 2020 at 7:59pm
Clarence Thomas, his childhood, resembles alot of childhood of black people growing up in the Jim Crow era. But his ass went on marry a white woman, who is a part of the so call tea party, who hated Obama, he should tell that part, a majority of the time you do not hear squat from Clarence Thomas. Guess what I read his book when came out decades ago, I was one of the people who backed him in the 80's when he was nominated for the supreme court, and when Anita Hill, accuse him of sexual assault, over the years I have seen how he stood by and not say squat. Trump's prison reform, Obama, could never do anything in the White house for 8 years the Republicans did everything to block his policy's. Clinton, had strong prison policy's back then, they also had restrictions on those high powered guns that these crazy white people are running around carrying trying to scare people. Trump's, prison reform, one black drug dealing grandmother let out of prison because Kim Khardashian, went to him and ask him to look at it, if it was not for Jim Khardashian, he would not have heard about this black grandmother, and he took full credit for it, and some black jump for joy, a drug dealing grandmother. Do you think white America fear a drug dealing grandmother. But every year the innocent project, which has nothing to do with Trump, or the Democrats or Republicans fight to get over turn cases of black men get out of jail who are framed for crimes they did not commit. Every year, we read stories of black men who spend years in jail fighting for there freedom for crimes they did not commit, where is the so call prison reform, Trump, is not letting innocent black men out of jail for crimes they did not commit. Look at Bill Cosby, America's so call dad white people could not stand their kids calling him America's dad, so he was framed on bogus rape charges. One witness said she never remember Bill Cosby raping her because she was so high on LSD. The one that got him committed, change her story 5 times, but that Prosecutor who was a former Republican, turn Democrat, and the judge had it out for poor Bill Cosby, blocking every attempt to have his case over turn. The Governor of PA, ask that same prosecutor, because of the Virus, about letting Bill Cosby , out on home confinement he said no. Where is the prison reform. The black man in Louisville, who shot at the cops for breaking down his door , and shooting the black woman 8 times, they are charging him for attempted murder, both victims have no criminal records, she is dead and they want to lock him up, you don't hear much of this story in the mainstream media because of the killing of the jogger in ATL. The cops had the wrong place, and the person they was looking for was already in custody. You think the courts in Kentucky will let this innocent black man out? Trump's, prison reform. Lock up the black man because he can't reproduce, keep the black population down by locking up innocent black men who spend decades in jail before they are release by the innocent project. Once word got out that Spanish people will over take white people in a couple of years white elect Trump, to kick them out illegal or birther children, block abortion clinics, so more white women can't have abortion, put more Republican federal judges, some who have no qualifications because they never tried a case and us racist to block abortion laws, restrict voting rights, and lick up more black men. Look how fast the cops in Florida, arrested those two NFL, players, put it all in the public, come to find out witnesses are saying they did not do it. Yes, they want to lock up young black men, they won't have kids in jail, black women will complain about not enough good black men cause they are in jail or gay. If you think the Republicans and Trump, don't have a white agenda to lock up, and kill more black men, then the saying goes " I have a bridge to sell you" only fools listen to a con man, and a liar, who is trying to blame Oba
Comment by mr1stroke on May 17, 2020 at 4:58pm

So is there a part he is going to tell what he did for black people, is there a reason why black people have been marching and begging for police reform, prison reform. Justice system reform while he was sitting in one of the highest seat, than again the community is to blame they have been living under the command of white people they have been condition for so long they cannot seem to make up their mind even when suffering, Donald Trump pass a new bill of prison reform which repeals many articles in the crime bill that has been in place by Clinton and Biden, they have no idea whats in that bill, they never read it and the people who conditioned them never bother to educate them or even tell them that bill exist, it is sad and they stay complaining about the justice system, niggers are lazy they wont get up and do unless someone do it for them

They will learn about it unless the democrats tell them, but how come the crime never repealed under democrats, but wait it was created by a democratic president and senates, why would they change it or tell you about it when they rather keep you in slavery. The sad part there are niggers who will defend it they have no character or dignity, while you defend the nonsense people can just google it and read about the truth, poor niggers

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