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Georgia GOP congressmen furious at Smithsonian for Clarence Thomas snub

Half a dozen Georgia GOP congressmen wrote an angry letter to the head of the Smithsonian Thursday criticizing curators for all but leaving out native son Clarence Thomas in the recently-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Georgians joined a dozen other House conservatives in citing "grave concerns" about Thomas' "conspicuous absence" from the museum given his rise from a modest upbringing outside of Savannah to becoming the second African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. The letter suggested that the curators may have been politically motivated given Thomas' conservative credentials and the fact that he was appointed by a Republican president.

"Justice Thomas' contributions to the judicial system through his appointment to the highest court in the country cannot be discounted," the group wrote. "It is a disservice to his legacy and to the history of this nation to mention his name in a single caption, but provide no other exhibit showcasing his story."

No Democrats or African-American lawmakers signed onto the letter in support.

Thomas quickly became a polarizing figure during his confirmation process, which was marred by allegations that he had sexually harassed a subordinate. Ever since he was elevated to the bench in 1991, Thomas has been a reliable conservative voice.

At the new African-American history museum, Thomas is not the primary focus of an exhibit but his confirmation battle is referenced briefly in a section about notable moments over the last four decades during which race dominated the national conversation.

Several conservative websites noticed the snub and began circulating a petition last month asking museum director Lonnie Bunch III not to “overlook African-American leaders like Justice Clarence Thomas.” Our colleague Ernie Suggs has written extensively about the debate.

Pooler Republican Buddy Carter represents Pin Point, where Thomas grew up, and helped organize the letter. He said he hasn't yet made it to the new museum but called the status quo an "injustice."

"I want to see inclusion and proper reference made to what we feel in this part of the country as being a true American success story," Carter said in an interview Thursday.

Other Georgia signatories on the letter are Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County; Austin Scott, R-Tifton; Rick Allen, R-Evans; Jody Hice, R-Monroe; and Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville.

Related coverage: 

Does Clarence Thomas deserve a place of honor at new Smithsonian?

Georgia native left out of African-American museum

Check out our special coverage of the African-American museum here.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.