Freshman Republican Representative Byron Donalds of Florida is leading a group of black Republicans who are asking the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to ‘honor’ Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and improve an exhibit that they allege “falls short” in appropriately representing his legacy. They call this upgrade “long overdue.”
As reported by Fox News on February 4, the group sent a letter to heads of the museum. It is reportedly signed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT), Dr. Alveda King, Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James, and GOP commentator Paris Dennard, among others.
Donalds commends the museum, writing: “This museum is a national treasure for our nation’s fabric – this is especially true for me as a Black American and Republican…Black History transcends political correctness and partisanship…Overall, the NMAAHC honors its mission, but it is unfortunate to see pitfalls likely driven by irresponsible bias.”
This is not the first time that the museum has been called out by Republicans for its portrayal of Justice Thomas. When it opened in 2016, Fox News reports that Thomas was “only mentioned in connection with Anita Hill — a former staffer of Thomas, who accused him in 1991 during his confirmation hearing, of making sexually explicit comments and unwanted advances toward her while she worked for him at the Education Department and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the 1980s.”
Thomas notably described the entire process as a “high-tech lynching,” denying the allegations.
In 2017, there was a new exhibit at the museum, which Thomas said was put in without him being told. The second exhibit displays information about Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court’s two African American justices. The Washington Post reports that it includes “a photograph of Thomas at his Supreme Court investiture on Nov. 1, 1991, a picture of him as an undergraduate at the College of the Holy Cross and a copy of Jet magazine with his image on the cover.”
According to the Post:
The [exhibit’s] text also compares the two judges: “Where Marshall advocated judicial action, Thomas encouraged judicial restraint. Thomas has cited varied influences on his worldview over time, from his grandfather’s teaching to the speeches of Malcolm X and the writings of Thomas Sowell. On the Supreme Court, he self-identifies as an independent thinker who interprets the Constitution’s original intent.”
In his letter addressing the exhibits, Representative Donalds writes that “Black history cannot and should not be political…The American people deserve an unbiased assessment of the trailblazers in the Black community — it is time to honor Justice Thomas with this long-overdue documentation of his whole life and history and not the disingenuous effort displayed today.”
Representative Owens also called on the museum to update the exhibit, telling Fox News, “As one of the only two Black men to serve on our nation’s highest and most distinguished court, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas deserves unbiased recognition from the National Museum of African American History and Culture…”
The museum’s director, Kevin Young, declined an interview with Artnet News. However, he provided a statement regarding the letter:
“While all our exhibitions are based on rigorous research, they are still open to interpretation,” it reads. “Through scholarship, publications, and education, the museum will continue to explore the rich contributions and complexity of African Americans.”