The school district's decision to revoke an invitation to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to speak at a high school awards ceremony is causing a major flap in this Washington suburb.
Allegations of bigotry and intolerance are flying, and radio talk shows are abuzz. Trying to make amends, the Prince George's County Council voted 6-2 to send a letter of apology to Thomas, the court's only black member, and invite him to visit.The council's five white members were joined Wednesday by one black in voting to send the letter, which has not been drafted. Two black members voted against sending the letter, and one abstained.
Audrey Scott, who is white and the only Republican member of the council, suggested the letter be sent. She called the decision to revoke Thomas' speaking invitation "the epitome of intolerance and bigotry."
Prince George's County has 772,000 residents, a little more than half of whom are black. With an average household income of $50,988, it is the most affluent predominantly black community in the nation.
A black member of the school board said Thomas was not appropriate to speak at a student awards ceremony because he does not represent black interests.
"Justice (Clarence) Thomas does not represent the interests of my constituents, many of whom have benefited from the affirmative action programs he now seeks to destroy," Prince George's County School Board member Kenneth E. Johnson said.
"He shouldn't be held up as some sort of shining example of minority achievement when, if it were left to him, black people in this country would be set back to the pre-civil rights days," Johnson added.
Thomas had been invited to be the keynote speaker at a June 10 awards program at Thomas Pullen Creative and Performing Arts School in Landover. But Johnson and two other black school board members - Fred Hutchinson and Alvin Thornton - threatened to organize a boycott of the appearance.
The school district withdrew the invitation to Thomas.
The incident was "another indication of the continuing alienation of the black community from Justice Thomas," said Georgetown University law professor Mark Tushnet, a frequent critic of the justice.
School board Chairman Marcy C. Canavan was critical of the decision to disinvite Thomas.
"That's outrageous," said Canavan, who is white. "If we can get a Supreme Court justice to speak, we should count our blessings."