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My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir

My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir

4.7 34
by Clarence Thomas

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Provocative, inspiring, and unflinchingly honest, My Grandfather's Son is the story of America's most remarkable and controversial leaders, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told in his own words.

Thomas was born in rural Georgia into a life marked by poverty and hunger. At age seven, Thomas and his six-year-old brother were sent to live with his


Provocative, inspiring, and unflinchingly honest, My Grandfather's Son is the story of America's most remarkable and controversial leaders, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told in his own words.

Thomas was born in rural Georgia into a life marked by poverty and hunger. At age seven, Thomas and his six-year-old brother were sent to live with his mother's father, Myers Anderson, and her stepmother in their Savannah home. It was a move that would forever change Thomas's life.

Thomas witnessed his grandparents' perseverance despite injustices, their hopefulness despite bigotry, and their deep love for their country. His own quiet determination would propel him to Holy Cross and Yale Law School, and eventually—despite a bitter, highly contested public confirmation—to the highest court in the land. In this candid and deeply moving memoir, Clarence Thomas recounts his astonishing journey for the first time, and pays homage to the man who made it possible.

Editorial Reviews

Jabari Asim
My Grandfather's Son ends triumphantly as Thomas prepares for his first conference as a member of the Supreme Court. This memoir will not sway those who oppose his fierce, unapologetic conservatism, but it does provide a fascinating glimpse into a tortured, complex and often perplexing personality. Near the end of the book he discusses a desire to allow his life "to be seen as the story of an ordinary person who, like most people, had worked out his problems step by unsure step." In that he has succeeded.
—The Washington Post
William Grimes
His critics might not be moved by his political arguments, but his memoir gives them a man, not a caricature, to attack…Justice Thomas describes his intellectual journey, and his struggle to keep body and soul together on meager government pay, in some of the book's most absorbing and self-critical chapters.
—The New York Times

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.15(d)

Read an Excerpt

My Grandfather's Son
A Memoir

Chapter One

Sun to Sun

I was nine years old when I met my father. His name was M. C. Thomas, and my birth certificate describes him as a "laborer." My mother divorced him in 1950 and he moved north to Philadelphia, leaving his family behind in Pinpoint, the tiny Georgia community where I was born. I saw him only twice when I was young. The first time was when my mother called her parents, with whom my brother Myers and I then lived, and told them that someone at her place wanted to see us. They called a cab and sent us to her housing-project apartment, where my father was waiting. "I am your daddy," he told us in a firm, shameless voice that carried no hint of remorse for his inexplicable absence from our lives. He said nothing about loving or missing us, and we didn't say much in return—it was as though we were meeting a total stranger—but he treated us politely enough, and even promised to send us a pair of Elgin watches with flexible bands, which were popular at the time. Though we watched the mail every day, the watches never came, and when a year or so had gone by, my grandparents bought them for us instead. My father had broken the only promise he ever made to us. After that we heard nothing more from him, not even a Christmas or birthday card. For years my brother and I would ask ourselves how a man could show no interest in his own children. I still wonder.

I saw him for the second time after I graduated from high school. He had come to see his own father in Montgomery, not far from Pinpoint, and I went there to visit him. I felt I owed it to him—he was, after all, my father, andhe had let my grandparents raise me without interference—but Myers would have nothing to do with "C," as we called him, saying that the only father we had was our grandfather. That may sound harsh, but it was nothing more than the truth, for me as much as my brother. In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son. I even called him Daddy because that was what my mother called him. (His friends called him Mike.) He was dark, strong, proud, and determined to mold me in his image. For a time I rejected what he taught me, but even then I still yearned for his approval. He was the one hero in my life. What I am is what he made me.

I am descended from the West African slaves who lived on the barrier islands and in the low country of Georgia, South Carolina, and coastal northern Florida. In Georgia my people were called Geechees; in South Carolina, Gullahs. They were isolated from the rest of the population, black and white alike, and so maintained their distinctive dialect and culture well into the twentieth century. What little remains of Geechee life is now celebrated by scholars of black folklore, but when I was a boy, "Geechee" was a derogatory term for Georgians who had profoundly Negroid features and spoke with a foreign-sounding accent similar to the dialects heard on certain Caribbean islands.

Much of my family tree is lost to me, its secrets having gone to the grave with my grandparents, but I know that Daddy's people worked on a three-thousand-acre rice plantation in Liberty County, just south of Savannah, and after their manumission they stayed nearby. The maternal side of my mother's family also came from Liberty County, and probably worked on the same plantation, most of which has remained intact. Not long ago I saw it for the first time—during my youth blacks never went there unless they had a good reason—and found that the old barn in which my great-great-grandparents surely labored a century and a half ago is now a bed-and-breakfast inn whose Web site calls it "a perfect honeymoon hideaway." You'd never guess that slaves once worked there.

My mother, Leola, whom I called Pigeon, her family nickname, was born out of wedlock in 1929 or 1930.Her mother died in childbirth, and she saw little of Daddy as a child. At first she was raised by her maternal grandmother, who died when she was eight or nine years old. Then she went to live in Pinpoint with Annie Green, her mother's sister. C and his family moved near there to work at Bethesda Home for Boys, which is next to Pinpoint; that was where he met Pigeon, all of whose children he sired. My sister, Emma Mae, was born in 1946, with Myers Lee following three years later. I was born between them in Sister Annie's house on June 23, 1948. I was delivered by Lula Kemp, a midwife who came from the nearby community of Sandfly. It was one of those sweltering Georgia nights when the air is so wet that you can barely draw breath. To this day my mother swears I was too stubborn to cry.

Pinpoint is a heavily wooded twenty-five-acre peninsula on Shipyard Creek, a tidal salt creek ten miles southeast of Savannah. A shady, quiet enclave full of pines, palms, live oaks, and low-hanging Spanish moss, it feels cut off from the rest of the world, and it was even more isolated in the fifties than it is today. Then as now, Pinpoint was too small to be properly called a town. No more than a hundred people lived there, most of whom were related to me in one way or another. Their lives were a daily struggle for the barest of essentials: food, clothing, and shelter. Doctors were few and far between, so when you got sick, you stayed that way, and often you died of it. The house in which I was born was a shanty with no bathroom and no electricity except for . . .

My Grandfather's Son
A Memoir
. Copyright © by Clarence Thomas. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Clarence Thomas is Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Born in Pinpoint, Georgia, he is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross and Yale Law School. He lives with his wife and great nephew in northern Virginia.

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My Grandfather's Son 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's obvious now, after reading, My Grandfather's Son, why the Thomas confirmation hearings had a lasting effect on me. I applaud this great man, husband, grandson and father for going the distance. Now, when I read anything about Clarence Thomas, I will do my own editing and unscramble the opinions that get in the way of the truth. What a humbling experience reading this book. I could not put it down for three days, reading it into the early hours of the morning. Please, read this book and know this man and empathize his tough journey that took him to the highest court in our land, the U.S. Supreme Court.
furniturerestorer More than 1 year ago
I had read a previous biography of Clarence Thomas and assumed this would parallel that book. It obviously did follow the same outline but Mr. Thomas fills in the inner world he dealt with so honestly, I was amazed. He wasn't happy about the other biography and I assumed that he intended to write an even more positive view of himself, boy was I wrong. Mr. Thomas is so honest and vulnerable in his portrayal of himself it almost reads like a private journal where one might take themselves to the woodshed. Anyone who believes that this complicated man is a lap dog of the right, an "uncle tom" or anyother label you would want to put on him is grossly mistaken! One of the most facinating biographies that I have ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My Grandfather's Son I read Clarence Thomas's autobiographical My Grandfather's Son some months after the first flush of publicity. The book is well worth reading, which is not to say that it won me over to Thomas's political views, or made me an admirer of his tenure in government. The early chapters provide a moving account of growing up impoverished in rural Georgia, subject to the pathological Jim Crow laws and customs of the time, which is as authentic as any other that has appeared in print. The book does establish that Thomas is a complex human being, a unique individual, as are we all. That is important. Nothing is more infuriating than being critiqued for something you are not, rather than for a life and a set of principles that one is proud of, even if others sharply disagree. Thomas is absolutely correct that he has a right to be his own self, not to conform to any expected orthodoxy based on his race, his sex, or any other irrelevant characteristic. In this, he is merely living up to Jesse B. Semple's defiant statement to his employer ''my boss is a white man'' who asks him 'What does The Negro want now?' Simple responds, many times over, 'I am not The Negro. I am this Negro. I represent my own self.' 'Taken from Langston Hughes's, Coffee Break. Thomas's rejection of a brand of so-called liberalism based on cheap stereotypes is a breath of fresh air. But his critique is missing a good deal of history, and his own account makes clear that, to those he adopted as his closest political allies, he was merely a convenient pawn, thrust into jobs he might indeed not have been well qualified to fill. Thomas knew that most of the inner circle in the Reagan administration were uninterested in offering anything to advance civil rights. 'By the end of my first year at the Department of Education, I took a dim view of the prospects for blacks in America. I no longer thought that the Reagan administration could do anything that would be of any help to them... Those of us who had chosen to work for President Reagan found it hard to shake the nagging feeling that this aides didn't trust us... Too many political appointees appeared to me to be too preoccupied with celebrating their own ideological credentials to pay attention to the needs of blacks. We hadn't voted for him, so why should they bother with us?' Ronald Reagan's plaintive phone call asking Thomas why African Americans considered him racist, and his protest that he personally had never been racist in his life, were no doubt sincere. But Reagan's administration, and his party, highlighted in Thomas's own words, provided the plain answer to the president's question. Thomas relates that he was shocked by Coretta Scott King's dismissal of Ronald Reagan, 'Well, he IS a Republican.' What did the Republican Party mean in 1980 for African Americans? As early as 1960, the limited-federal-government wing of the northern and western Republican Party had been finding common ground with the states' rights Dixiecrats still embedded in the Democratic Party. Between 1964 and 1980, the Republican Party had made an open bid to all racists dissatisfied with Democratic sponsorship of civil rights laws and federal intervention to change parties. Thomas may not have noticed that, because by his own description, it occured during a time when he was less than interested in electoral politics. But it was bitter history to most African Americans who observed it. Yes, there were Republicans who were instrumental in passing civil rights legislation. Considering the size of the southern Democratic bloc in congress, passage would have been impossible without those Republican votes. But, those Republicans were increasingly marginalized in their own party. There is no doubt that the Democratic Party took black votes for granted, had a very limited vision of what to offer black voters, and took their cue from an aging civil rights leadership, which could not fully recognize the changing
Auditman More than 1 year ago
I know it is now an old book, but wow! Talk about getting insight into what made someone the man he is today. Great life story and well told. This was an insightful biography and a great read. Recommended.
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The only thing I remember about Clarence Thomas prior to reading his auto biography was the terrible things Anita Hill had to say about him during his confirmation hearings. Upon reading this book I don't know how he managed to keep it together, but I am sure grateful he did. I just take pride in being an American because men like him could come from such humble backgrounds and overcome such hardships to become a Suprem Court Justice.
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PatCT More than 1 year ago
I have always admired Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. His memoir gives the reader insight into his youth, and the grandfather that shaped him into the wonderful and decent human being that he is today. It makes someone who did not grow up in the south or who is not black see another side of life. Justice Thomas seemed to strugle most of his life with inner turmoil. It is a truly fascinating book and I have always wanted to hear his side of the Anita Hill story. I was very suprised when I read that he really never wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice. He endured such pain and sorrow due to his public hearing and tears flowed for this decent human being when reading this chapter. I whole heartedly encourage all to read. You will not be able to put it down...I know I couldn't!!
asieslavida More than 1 year ago
I would highly recommend reading this. Clarence Thomas provides a window on his world that is both heart-rending and inspirational. I have the utmost respect for his courage and great compassion.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
There are many reasons to read this very fine personal utterance. Not only does this inspire respect but understanding the judge's background and the manner of his work ethic makes HIS version of the Anita Hill thing absolutely believable. The critics who said this was whiney were just whining bec they could not find wrong with it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cried, I laughed, I was angry at times, and I was just plain sad at times. This book was wonderful. Judge Thomas should write more books. He is a great writer. Thanks for sharing a portion of your life, Judge Thomas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story was inspiring. I have so much more respect and admiration for this great man knowing what he has achieved in life and having to endure the many hardships to get there. I would love for this story to be made into a movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found Clarence Thomas' book 'My Grandfather's Son' to be a fantastic read. Clarence was raised by his grandparents - dirt poor in the deep South in post WWII America. His grandfather was a hardworking, honorable man and he passed these life lessons on to Clarence. During Clarence's early adulthood, he embraced the philosophies of the Democratic Party ..... then he 'smartened-up' and became a Republican! He felt the liberal ideas of the Democratic Party handicapped the black community. Didn't give them the incentive to work hard and make a better life for themselves. The Democratic Party made them too dependent upon the goverment. With Clarence's new Republican status, he achieved success during the Reagan administration with mid-level government positions. The first President Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court and Clarence endured so much hatred and injustice, it's a wonder that he could 'stick it out'. The seminary, Holy Cross, Yale Law School, Supreme Court Justice - truly an example of what hard work and tenacity can bring!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I do not subscribe to some of Justice Thomas' politics and legal decisions, I have a great appreciation now of how the core of this man was formed and how his thinking process was shaped. The book highlights many of the financial, social, and personal struggles Clarence encountered growing up, school-wise, and thru the SC nomination process. I particularly found it refreshing that he articulated his personal shortcomings, something that few of us are willing to admit. I found his story inspiring in that even those of us in the most dire of situations the U.S. can rise above it all. What I thought was missing was some discussion of the past 16-years of his life since he was confirmed to the Court. The foregoing may have shed some further light on the evolution of this man.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What other's intended for harm, God used for good. For every negative in Justice Thomas life there was a positive. He overcame the negative's, focused on the positives, took initiative and the end result is a man that should be considered a gift to America. Too many people quit, say they can't or expect other's to do it for them. Not Justice Thomas. He is a true American Hero. A man of principle, honest and a representative for all people regardless of age, sex or race. I beleive that he did not become a priest because God knew that we needed him on the court. Thank you Justice Thomas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book should be required reading for high school students 'as well as read by the average adult'. Instead of sitting around complaining about how bad things are/were, and that the government owed him and should take care of him 'which seems to be the mentality of many people lately', Justice Thomas made something of himself. While the road was long, curvy, and bumpy, he prevailed. His grandfather, who had a 3rd grade education and could not read, is his mentor, and taught him life lessons he's still using today - simple, smart, and poignant. I admire Clarence Thomas greatly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so needed in this climate of me generation and what can you do for me mentality. Justice Thomas' life shows that in this country you can come from poverty and racism and be what you strive to be if you have the passion, perseverance, deligence, and rock solid traditional values. Should be a required reading for all middle schoolers and up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The cd is wonderful - judge thomas' story in his own words!! i could not stop listening until i finished the book! eye-opening, enlightening, entertaining, educational i hope everyone finds time to either read or listen to this book! it is well worth it!