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An Examination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Cedric Jennings They came from the most humble of beginnings, with a fatherless family upbringing, in poverty in a rough neighborhood only to make it to the upper echelons of modern American society. Based on this brief description one could easily be describing the life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or the protagonist of Ron Suskind’s non-fiction best seller, A Hope in The Unseen, Cedric Jennings. Both men are the embodiment of the American dream. That being said, neither man is not without their respective faults among their impressive list of accomplishments. Not only do these two men have paralleling journeys to the highest rungs of social status from all the way from the lowest, but at one point in time their paths actually crossed. During a once in a lifetime meeting, A man at what is possibly the highest and most noble status of our government gave an aspiring young scholar from the ghettos of Washington D.C. advisement in how to proceed with fitting in the ranks of the Ivy League. Despite the fact that this said advice came from an overwhelmingly credible source (which is an understatement,) in the end the guidance offered by only the second African American man to serve in the Supreme Court was ultimately rejected by Cedric Jennings. The Purpose of this writing will be to explore and examine the commonalities of each man, with seemingly similar upbringings, personal attributes, and ambitions- and to explain why
This was only the beginning of what would be a lifetime of extraordinary accomplishment and achievement. but his journey was not without setbacks and more than a fair amount of adversity. which was broken at the neck repeatedly by some trying to marginalize and devalue him and his achievement. Georgia after a house fire had rendered them homeless (Thomas) Living with his grandparents. where he spent the first few years of his life living in a dilapidated one room shack with no plumbing and dirt floors. His family was even further dissevered at the age of nine when his financially strained mother sent him and his younger brother to live with his grandparents in Savannah. and the value of a well-rounded and wholesome education (Thomas 95) By the time Thomas had reached his teenage years. He recounts this metaphoric moment in his life in Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen: . Clarence Thomas came from meek beginnings in a small coastal African American community in rural Georgia. He was awarded a statue of St. self-reliance. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was born in Pinpoint. Thomas experienced the comfort and luxury of running water and warm meals on a consistent and regular basis for the first time in his life. he attended an all-white seminary high school in hopes of studying for priesthood( Thomas 35) It was here that he experienced one of his most memorable bouts of episodic racism. Jude after having won a Latin Bee in his school.Lawson 2 dissimilarity in personality led Cedric Jennings to reject the advice of someone that many people would be honored to receive guidance from. His father left him and his two other siblings to be cared for by their mother at a very early age. Thomas’ grandfather Anderson would instill in the future Supreme Court Justice the importance of hard work. Georgia in 1948 and began his professional career in government as an assistant Attorney General of Missouri in 1974 after graduating from Yale Law School with a Juris Doctor degree (Thomas).
I wasn't giving up. (Christoffersen) He claims that his degree from one of the most prestigious universities in this nation was not received well by law firms to which he had applied to upon his graduation. Massachusetts. lying there right next to the body on my bureau where I'd be sure to see it. where it was as previously mentioned. So I got more glue. it happened again. He had since stated: “I never did change my mind about its value. and after obtaining a degree in English Language from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. I put it on my bureau in the big. he was accepted into Yale Law School. open dorm room where we all slept. Bomb Yale Law School. believing that his admission and subsequent success therein was a result of the school’s affirmative action policies. He says he loaded up on tough courses to prove he was not inferior to his white classmates but considers the effort futile.put it on real thick.and fixed it again. but soon felt he was there because of his race. He says he was repeatedly turned down in job interviews at law firms after his . Whoever was breaking it must have gotten the message: I'd keep gluing it forever if I needed to. (Suskind 119) The figurative nature of Thomas’ relentless gluing would prove to be a perpetuating theme that continued to echo throughout it his life from his past and well into the present. (Dolin) Quite contrarily to what a person from a background of humility such as Thomas would typically believe in these circumstances. After another few days. evidenced by the fifteen cent sticker he has stuck on to the frame in which his degree from the school sits in his office and the sign he keeps on a shelf that reads “Save America. he graduated with a Juris Doctor degree in the middle of his class in 1974. I glued it back on. To this day Thomas believes that his Yale Law degree served little value to him.Lawson 3 After I won it. Fast forwarding several years. I looked over and saw the head was broken off. he was highly critical of his Ivy League experience overall. A few days later.(Douglas) A short article in the Huffington Post reads “The conservative justice says he initially considered his admission to Yale a dream.
Cedric was born as the youngest illegitimate child to a father who. Enter Cedric Jennings. progressive African America who grew up in the middle of the civil rights era and was already a young adult by the time Martin Luther King Jr. because despite initial struggles after his graduation. he can go to an Ivy League school.” In the same article it is also stated that some of his black classmates say that Thomas needs to “get over” his grudge with Yale Law School. a less than reputable school in the inner city. Cedric Jennings’ journey begins at Ballou High School tucked away in the ghettos of southeast Washington D. However. was assassinated to become one of the most soft-spoken and conservative Supreme Court justices currently serving on the bench. would normally be a politically left leaning. the somewhat counter intuitive advice he gave to an aspiring young scholar from similar beginnings from the inner city of our nation’s capital.com) Hence. he acts out at the magnet school he attended. (Suskind) He earns top marks .Lawson 4 1974 graduation.C. considering that his tenure at Yale no doubt played some role in his journey to becoming only the second black Supreme Court Justice in American history (Peyton) It is the culmination of all these experiences and influences that led someone who by all accounts. She has instilled upon Cedric the belief that if he studies hard. while was intelligent and educated. (Ronsuskind. was a drug dealer who has spent a good part of his life in jail. his enrollment and graduation “opened the door to extraordinary opportunities” which is a fact that cannot be ignored nor overstated. where he was took honors and advanced classes with other minority children and was sent to Ballou High School. much like Clarence Thomas’ grandfather ingrained in him. Cedric’s single mother made a promise to keep her son from getting caught up in life on the streets by encouraging his involvement in church and education.(CBSnews.com) Cedric and his mother live in poverty and are constantly moving from place to place.
Disillusioned with MIT.he is withdrawn. aloof and has few friends. Cedric Jennings had just been preliminarily accepted to Brown University after his graduation at the top of his class from Ballou. By the time he had reached his third year in high school. and people wanting you to sign on. Cedric. I'm just a person. he applies to Brown University and even with low SAT scores. to narrow yourself into some group identity or other. he is granted admission under the school’s affirmative action policy. Try to say to yourself.Lawson 5 but is chastised and shunned by the other students for being an academic over achiever.' You'll find a lot of so-called multicultural combat. In a meeting that would endure over the course of an entire afternoon. Among the many topics of their discussion. a lot of struggle between ethnic and racial groups. Ron Suskind. seemingly suggesting that Cedric do exactly as he did. the advice given to Cedric by Clarence Thomas comes as somewhat of a shock to Cedric. and despite being told to be his own person it seems as though Clarence Thomas is injecting the biases of his negative experiences from a time long past. Cedric’s pride in his abilities border on arrogance. Try to avoid them. In chapter five of the novel. You have to resist that.com) It is about at this point in time that Clarence Thomas invited Cedric to his office for a meeting after having read about his story of success in a Washington Post article written by the author of A Hope in the Unseen. The advice given most certainly has an air of bitterness embedded within it. some words from the wise delivered by Thomas were: No doubt one thing you'll find when you get to a school like Brown is a lot of classes and orientation on race relations. . (Ronsuskind. he earns a scholarship to MIT and comes to the realization that he is lagging behind many other middle-class minority students. 'I'm not a black person. You understand? (Suskind 121) This advice was as surprising to me as it must have been for such a prideful young man as Cedric Jennings.
in A Hope in the Unseen. many kids at Ballou High School subscribed to certain “crews” which were essentially street gangs with a structural organization that provided its members a safety net not found elsewhere in their community. Instead of embracing his culture outright. is it better to embrace your own cultural identity regardless of public perception or to conform to whatever status quo in order to get ahead? Justice Thomas most likely felt that Cedric would feel persecuted at some point and clinging to a cultural identity would only further shelter him from making it in “the white man’s world. (Thomas) His perceived neutrality in regards to his own culture could possibly even be a contributing factor in his nomination and subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court. These crews essentially mirror the identity groups at Brown. This begs the question. which is metaphorically akin to his “conquering” of the English language after having been raised to speak the pigeon English language of Gullah. Supreme Court justice Thomas shared this advice because he believes that the African American study classes do not offer much in the way of academics and do not give much of an edge in terms of competition within “the white man’s world.Lawson 6 The shortcomings and challenges faced by Clarence Thomas ultimately defines the harsh nature of the criticisms given to Cedric for his decision to dive headlong into the Ivy League. .(Infoplease) These crews allowed them to make it through high school unharmed physically but left them psychologically stunted and would need to remain dependent on these groups to subsist outside of high school as well.” This unsettled Cedric because to him it had seemed like college was going to be a persistent battle against the white man.” Thomas wanted him to persevere and stay away from these groups because he believed that while they offered a sense of protection they are not beneficial to those within the group. For instance. he chose to assimilate under the guise of individuality.
or at least not apparent. However. In conclusion. the advice given by Clarence Thomas was not entirely applicable in Cedric’s modern setting. Cedric succeeded beyond any reasonable doubt and would have done so with or without the advice of a Supreme Court justice. Ultimately. the threat of not being taken seriously because of being a black man in an Ivy League school was no longer fully present. . Cedric Jennings came of age in a time period considerably different than did Clarence Thomas. Cedric was confined to his own community and did not experience much else outside of that and once he did venture outside of what was socially familiar to him. In a time where racial issues were at the forefront of American society Clarence Thomas attended an all-white high school and witnessed racism firsthand. Despite being advised against diving into the world of Brown University.Lawson 7 Eventually. Clarence Thomas’ advice seems to be a bit antiquated because what is seen at Brown University isn’t so much an issue of division along racial lines at it is with economic social status. Cedric heeds Clarence Thomas’ advice only to a certain degree as he doesn’t involve himself much in cultural study as much as he immerses himself into mathematics and other classic forms of academics. the hardships faced by Clarence Thomas were restricted to a time and place and his own experiences colored his opinion of the Ivy League world in a less than positive light. Although Cedric did feel out of place it was not due to his race but due to his economic and religious upbringing.
com. First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas. Web. 17 Apr. 17 Apr. A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League. 17 Apr. <http://abcnews." Ron Suskind Author and Journalist. Print. 1998.com/huffwires/20071021/yale-justice-thomas/>. DOLIN. New York: New York UP. 2009. Ron. John. Print. Infoplease. "Anger Still Fresh in Clarence Thomas' Memoir. Christoffersen. Web. Suskind. ABC News Network." CBSNews. New York: Broadway.com/newsite/hopeunseen/archives/cat_cedric_jennings. 2012. 03 Oct.ronsuskind. "Justice Says Law Degree 'Worth 15 Cents'" The Huffington Post. <http://www. 2007. San Francisco: Encounter.html>.com/biography/var/clarencethomas.com/stories/2007/09/27/60minutes/main3305443_page5. Infoplease. 2012. Thomas. . Web. 11 Feb. <http://www. <http://www. 2012. TheHuffingtonPost. 1999. Gerber. 17 Apr.com/TheLaw/Story?id=3682886>. 2012. 2001.cbsnews. 17 Apr. Scott Douglas.shtml>.Lawson 8 Work Cited "A Hope in the Unseen. 2012. Web. MONICA. Clarence Thomas: A Biography.infoplease. <http://www. CBS Interactive.go.huffingtonpost. Andrew Peyton. Web. "Clarence Thomas: The Justice Nobody Knows.html>." ABC News.
The New York Times. Web. . In His Own Words. 2007. Print Thomas.html>. 14 Dec. "The 43rd President. Clarence. 2000.Lawson 9 Print. My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir." The New York Times.com/2000/12/14/politics/14TWOR. 2012.nytimes. <http://www. Thomas. . Clarence. 17 Apr. New York: Harper.
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