Back in Savannah to honor Pin Point, Clarence Thomas finds praise — and raises more questions

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been one of the most controversial public figures of the last couple of decades.

He has also been instrumental in the creation of a “heritage museum” in the small coastal Georgia community of Pin Point, just off the Diamond Causeway that leads to Skidaway Island. (Of course, Pin Point was there long before the causeway.)

That museum was dedicated yesterday and an historical marker was unveiled. See Chuck Mobley’s piece in the SMN: A monumental day at Pin Point. From the piece:

“I am a son of Pin Point,” said Thomas, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991.

The justice was clearly comfortable inside the Sweetfield of Eden Baptist Church, where the day-long celebration began. Thomas laughed heartily as several of the other speakers talked about their youthful experiences together and referred to him by his Pin Point nickname, “Boy.”

But he was quite serious as he explained what Pin Point, which was settled in the 1890s by African-Americans from adjacent islands, has meant to him.

“I had always hoped that I’d bring honor to Pin Point,” said Thomas, whose wife, mother and sister sat in the tightly-packed audience, along with a large number of cousins.

There’s also this embedded video, which is well worth a look:

A blog at The Washington Post has a post about the opening too: Clarence Thomas attends hometown museum dedication; source of funding for institution prompts questions. It would be hard to say that Thomas has erred in his drive for a museum at Pin Point, but the funding source continues to raise important questions. From the WashPo:

Pin Point is the world into which Thomas was born, but the museum is owed to the world in which Thomas now lives. His friend Harlan Crow, a wealthy Dallas developer who also donates to conservative political causes, has spent millions of dollars on the project.

That and other generosities to Thomas and his wife, Virginia, have given rise to ethics controversies in Washington. After a New York Times investigative report identified Crow as the museum’s anonymous donor and raised questions about trips Thomas took that Crow might have underwritten, government ethics groups and liberal organizations protested.

“Do Supreme Court justices get a pass on the ethical standards that every other judge must meet?” asked Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.

Others have said there is no prohibition against a justice’s friend spending money on such a project unless there was pressure to do so.

Hanif Haynes, president of the Pin Point Betterment Association, is quoted in the piece — and he’s just happy to see the preservation efforts:

“I guess this is a way he feels he can give back to the community,” Hayne said of Thomas. “People aren’t concerned with who and how it was financed.”

The WashPo piece also includes some quotes from Armstrong history prof Barbara Fertig:

Barbara Fertig, a history professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah who has consulted with Thomas on Pin Point, said she disagrees with Thomas’s jurisprudence, but “we are in solid agreement on the importance of Pin Point.”

It is, she said, an “American story” about people “who never moved away from the site of their enslavement” and still made a life. But she is unclear what role the museum will play in Pin Point’s long-term preservation. Even though it is built, there are still questions about when it will open and who will run it.

But Thomas said it gives Pin Point a chance “to remain as it is, not as others might wish to see it.”

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