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Frederick Douglass and Clarence Thomas vs. David Corn



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Mother Jones’s David Corn is upset with Clarence Thomas, complaining this morning that, in his opinion on Fisher vs. University of Texas, Thomas “compared the arguments in favor of affirmative action to those used to support segregation in years bygone” and “compared the justification of affirmative action to the justification for slavery.” Corn characterized this as an “extreme rant”:

That means it was a bad day for Justice Clarence Thomas. As he notes in a concurring opinion (that reads like a dissent), he wanted the court to “hold that a State’s use of race in higher education admissions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.” Thomas’ decision was longer than that of the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He compared the arguments in favor of affirmative action to those used to support segregation in years bygone, calling them “virtually identical” to the contentions the court rejected to undo segregation. He declared, “the use of race has little to do with the alleged educational benefits of diversity.” And he went as far as you would expect, noting that “Slaveholders argued that slavery was a ‘positive good’ that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life.” Yes, Thomas compared the justification of affirmative action to the justification for slavery.

Good.

Thomas’s “hands off!” approach is hardly new. Here’s Frederick Douglass in an April 1865 speech to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, given just days after Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated:

The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. Gen. Banks was distressed with solicitude as to what he should do with the Negro. Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot- box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! [Applause.] If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone,–your interference is doing him a positive injury. Gen. Banks’ “preparation” is of a piece with this attempt to prop up the Negro. Let him fall if he cannot stand alone! If the Negro cannot live by the line of eternal justice, so beautifully pictured to you in the illustration used by Mr. Phillips, the fault will not be yours, it will be his who made the Negro, and established that line for his government. [Applause.] Let him live or die by that. If you will only untie his hands, and give him a chance, I think he will live. He will work as readily for himself as the white man.

The United States just erected a statue of Douglass in the Capitol. Lawmakers and visitors might elect to do more than just walk past it.



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