Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas taught students a valuable lesson when he showed up at a school awards ceremony despite angry protesters, some parents and officials said.
"I give a lot of credit to Thomas for showing up," said parent Mark Grisar of Mount Ranier, who is white. "By showing up, he showed that one person or one group of people shouldn't and couldn't stand in the way."Thomas entered the awards ceremony for eighth-graders at the Thomas G. Pullen Creative and Performing Arts School to loud applause.
Thomas's appearance in this majority black suburb of Washington, D.C., was in doubt until the last minute because of protests by some members of the county school board who said the sole black member of the Supreme Court has undermined his own people by decisions against affirmative action.
Marcy Canavan, president of the Prince George's County Board of Education, pointed out that students of both races gave Thomas a standing ovation several times.
"I think it's mostly because they learned a valuable lesson, that you don't bow to threats and disruption," she said.
About 50 protesters held an alternative program in another room of the school in Seat Pleasant where the ceremony was held. The Pullen school is in Landover.
Signs reading "No Uncle Tom in our county" and "Uncle Thomas is a traitor" were countered by "Say no to hate and bigotry, let Thomas speak."
Thomas was nominated to replace Thurgood Marshall in 1991. He has been in the court majority for decisions that struck down black-majority congressional districts and set in motion a rollback of federal affirmative action programs.