Future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was born on June 23, 1948. He grew up in the small African-American community of Pin Point, Georgia, with his older sister Emma Mae and younger brother Myers Lee. His father disappeared early on in his life, and the family divided even further when he was 9 years old. Struggling financially, his mother sent him and his brother to live with her father and stepmother in nearby Savannah.
Before he became a justice, Thomas had pursued other ambitions. His grandfather encouraged him to pursue a religious life. During high school, Thomas decided to transfer to St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, a first step to becoming a Catholic priest. He graduated in 1967 and then continued his studies at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Missouri.
The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 proved to be a turning point for Thomas. He left the seminary after overhearing a fellow student making fun of King’s death. Moving north, Thomas went to Holy Cross College, in Massachusetts, where he studied English. He became active in many social causes there, including protesting the Vietnam War and campaigning for civil rights. Thomas also helped establish a black student union. After college, he went to Yale University Law School, where his views started to become more conservative though he also benefited from the school’s affirmative action policies.
Thomas returned to the South to work as an assistant to Missouri Attorney General John Danforth after earning his degree. After several years as a lawyer for the agricultural giant Monsanto, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he eventually received several appointments from President Ronald Reagan. His most prominent post was as the chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1982. Another president, George H.W. Bush, gave Thomas his first and only judgeship, nominating him to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 1991, President Bush tapped Thomas to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the court. The two men could not have been more different. Marshall was widely known as a liberal jurist and for his civil rights work before taking the bench. Critics, on the other hand, attacked Thomas for his rigidly conservative views. Some also thought that he had too little experience as a judge. During his confirmation hearings, Thomas remained quiet on several key issues, including abortion rights.
Since his appointment in 1991, Thomas has often sided with his fellow conservatives on the court, especially Justice Antonin Scalia. He has opposed decisions in favor of affirmative action, such as the 2003 ruling that continued the program at the University of Michigan’s law school. While he usually declines interviews, Thomas, based on his opinions and speeches, also clearly supports the idea of a limited federal government. He finally decided to disclose information about his life in his 2007 memoir My Grandfather’s Son.
When not serving on the court, Thomas enjoys sports. He’s reportedly a fan and supporter of the Dallas Cowboys. He is also a car and NASCAR enthusiast. Thomas is married to Virginia Lamp. The couple adopted his grandnephew Mark in 1997. Thomas also has a son, Jamal, from his first marriage to Kathy Ambush.