1992 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"My goal has always been to do the best I can and do it in an honest way, to be fair to people, and to bring all that I have to it."
Clarence Thomas was born in 1948 in Pin Point, Georgia. When he was two, his father abandoned the family and his mother struggled to take care of her two sons. When Thomas was seven, they moved into his grandfather's tenement building in Savannah. Their one-room apartment shared a kitchen with other residents. Thomas' grandfather-his mother's father-had a fuel oil business that also sold ice, and Thomas helped him make deliveries. His grandfather had a strong work ethic and often told his grandson, "Never let the sun catch you in bed in the morning."
Thomas attended segregated public and parochial schools during his early childhood. He spent four years studying for the priesthood before changing his mind and enrolling at Holy Cross College. He graduated in the top seven percent of his class and went on to receive a J.D. degree from Yale Law School in 1974. He worked for John Danforth as an attorney general, and became Danforth's legislative assistant when he was elected senator from Missouri. Less than two years later, Thomas served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights with the Department of Education. That job led to his appointment as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1991, after less than two years on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court.
Thomas' life has been shaped by discipline, faith, and his own power of positive thinking. Since he was in his teens, he has kept a file of positive statements by other people. One of his favorites is from Abraham Lincoln, who said, "I will prepare myself and when the time comes, I will be ready." Thomas has used positive reinforcement throughout his life to counter what he calls the constant "barrage of negatives that reaffirm failure in the minds of young people. Many young people are drowning in negatives and hopelessness."
Having been given much guidance along the way, Thomas is committed to doing the same for others. He addresses youth groups and often meets with school children on visits to the Supreme Court. "You know what I see in those little kids who come here?" he asks. "I see myself. I see myself looking for hope, for a way to be a productive member of society-not necessarily to go out to make riches or anything like that, but to do the best I can."
A strong supporter of the Horatio Alger Association, Clarence Thomas has in recent years hosted a reception at the Supreme Court to honor the Horatio Alger Award winners. "The Horatio Alger Association is committed to giving at-risk students a college education-the first step toward a bright future," he says. "I am proud and honored to be a part of that."