antonia williams-gary.pngDate: 2011, mid-February. The national news reports a dubious milestone: the five-year self-imposed silence of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during hearings.

During that same week, we were entertained – in all forms of media – about the Academy Awards nominations for The King’s Speech, a movie about a man who would become King of England.  King George stuttered. When he took the crown, he went to extreme lengths to learn how to speak directly to his subjects in a time of war (via radio) to comfort them and to assure them of his ability to lead them during that time of crisis.

And, then, just to complete that week’s focus, all of Miami-Dade and, perhaps, even beyond that geographic boundary, was focused on the candidacy of Luther Campbell for mayor of Miami.

Luther Campbell became infamous for producing and starring in near-pornographic videos and has since been lauded and celebrated as the result of a victorious ruling from the Supreme Court in defense of his right to speech.

Get it?

One refused to speak.

One went to any length to be able to speak (to his people during a crisis).

And the other insisted on being able to say whatever was on his mind, as nasty as he wanted to be!

Wait for it…..

Clarence Thomas holds one of the most important positions in the country. He has direct control and influence over decisions that could affect all of us for years to come.  His appointment is for the length of his natural life. His choice to not speak during the hearings and his given reasons — well, you be the judge.

His refusal to speak is, in part, another form of denial of the shed blood, the lynched bodies, the rapes of our foremothers, the bruised feet that marched, the dog-bitten bodies, the fire-hosed children, the jailed leaders, the indignities suffered by our forefathers who were called ‘boys,’ etc.

Silence is not an option for Clarence Thomas. He occupies more than one of nine seats on the dais. It is his duty, as a man, to go to any lengths to find and fix his voice, to speak because he can.

He has offered reasons for not speaking – for instance, 1) that his voice is so heavy with his Southern dialect and accent that it may lend to ridicule; that 2) he has such profound respect for the time taken to prepare to present to the Court he feels he should just “listen,” etc.

I am sympathetic to both excuses. Some people confess that the fear of public speaking is a close second to the fear of dying. Even so, Clarence Thomas’ many excuses, reasons, really, for his silence fall far too short of what is demanded by the weight of the office he holds.

Putting aside any strong residual feelings of dismay that I and many others still have about his appointment, he has got to find his voice.

There are so many examples that Justice Thomas can look to for inspiration, early pioneers who lent their voices in support of justice in the face of death threats, jail, torture, ostracism, financial ruin, and other forms of personal destruction.

The power of the spoken word to bring down nations, to lift up hearts and spirits, to foment civil unrest, to heal the wounds of other hurtful words has been recorded and recited for centuries.  The list is long and exhaustive:

• Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and early women’s rights advocate, declared, at a large public meeting, that she was a woman able to work like a man yet birth children, cry at their sale into slavery and still carry on with dignity, like any other.

• Frederick Douglass, after buying his own freedom, started a newspaper to expand the coverage of his oratory about the right to freedom, for all people, and was a master of the spoken and written word.

• Booker T. Wasshington and W.E. Du Bois took their debate around the country, extending it to and from Africa with loud and profound considerations about the plight and economic progress of black folk.

• Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson resorted to song when the spoken word was not enough.

• Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby made us laugh to keep from crying, performing on concert stages and in front of cameras.

• Malcolm X, Huey Newton and Angela Davis, et. al., exhorted us to take to the streets, as a necessary means, talking loudly and saying something.

And then there was Martin, who said, “Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion.  The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different.”

Come on, Clarence, give us an opportunity to hear what lofty and noble ideals you cherish. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many come to the defense of how you speak and the hard-fought right for you to speak your peace.
Speak, Clarence Tho-mas, and be.

Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at