Thomas: 'We the People' Didn't Mean Us

The Supreme Court justice also spoke sarcastically about people who say he's "not black." 

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Clarence Thomas, the conservative African-American Supreme Court justice who's known for going record-breaking stretches of times without asking a single question from the bench, was not at all silent at a recent speaking engagement when it came to sharing the origins of his personal views on race and U.S. citizenship.

The Washington Post reports that, while interviewed by Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar at an event called "The Constitution Turns 225," held at Washington, D.C.'s National Archives, Thomas explained to the crowd that while the "we the people" in the Constitution didn't refer to blacks, he never doubted that he was entitled to full participation. Reflecting on values instilled by his upbringing in segregated schools in Savannah, Ga., he even joked about people who say he's "not black."

It is true, Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged the other night, that the "we the people" extolled in the Constitution 225 years ago did not include people who looked like him.

But the Declaration of Independence did, he contended, and that was something that a black kid growing up in Savannah, Ga., was told early on.

"There was always this underlying belief that we were entitled to be a full participant in 'we the people,' " Thomas told a crowd at the National Archives last week.

"That's the way we grew up. It was the way the nuns, who were all immigrants, would explain it to us -- that we were entitled, as citizens of this country, to be full participants. There was never any doubt that we were inherently equal. It said so in the Declaration of Independence."

... Amar repeatedly brought the conversation back to the point that under the original Constitution, people "like us" were not included. And Thomas spoke extensively about race -- after noting with sarcasm that "people say horrible things about it -- they say I'm not black, so I'm just a little doubtful I should say I'm black."

"I always think it's so fascinating to think of these black kids in the segregated school in Savannah reciting the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States or standing out in the schoolyard saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day before school," Thomas said.

"I mean, everything so obviously in front of you is wrong. You can't go to the public library. You can't live in certain neighborhoods. You can't go to certain schools. But despite all of that, you lived in an environment of people who said it was still our birthright to be included, and continued to push, not only to change the laws, but to maintain that belief in our hearts."

Read more at the Washington Post.