Fact Check

Did Rosa Parks Say Thomas' Confirmation Would Be ‘U-Turn’ on Road to Racial Progress?

The civil rights activist expressed her disapproval of the judge decades before the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Published Jul 8, 2022

 (Associated Press/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Associated Press/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
Rosa Parks said of the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1991: "His confirmation to the highest court in the land would not represent a step forward in the road to racial progress but a U-turn on that road ... His statements on Brown v. Board of Education case and even on the Roe v. Wade to me indicate that he wants to push the clock back…”

Fact Check

Decades before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas voted along with his conservative colleagues to overturn Roe v. Wade in the early summer of 2022, he had a notable critic in civil rights activist Rosa Parks. 

A statement attributed to Parks made the rounds on Twitter in July 2022, soon after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, reversing federal abortion protections that had been in place for nearly 50 years. The attribution is correct.

Parks became a key figure in the civil rights movement when, in 1955, she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery Alabama. For decades she was a symbol of the fight to end racial segregation, until her death in 2005. 

In 1991, she expressed her opposition to Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court by U.S President George H.W. Bush. Her exact words are saved in the Library of Congress archives. A scan of a typed letter is available in “Rosa Parks Papers: Writings, Notes, and Statements, 1956-1998; Statements; Nomination of Clarence Thomas, 1991.” Her letter states (emphasis ours):

STATEMENT OF MS. ROSA PARKS
On the Nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas
To the United States Supreme Court
September 13, 1991

Without a doubt, Judge Thomas has achieved a remarkable success in his career, raising himself up from humble beginnings to the nomination for the highest court in the land. That is to his great credit and I applaud him for it.

Yet I have to believe that his confirmation to the highest court in the land would not represent a step forward in the road to racial progress but a U-turn on that road. The record and rhetoric of the man leaves me little confidence that his confirmation would in any way help address the profound racial problems and divisions that drag our country down. His statements on the Brown v. Board of Education case, on affirmative action, and even on the Roe v. Wade to me indicate that he wants to push to clock back.

African Americans I believe want to have confidence in the promise of the courts, we want to believe that they are a place we can turn for the redress of the racial discrimination and many deprivations that are still clearly rampant in our country. The Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Board of Education instilled in us the hope nearly forty years ago as did many others that subsequently followed.

Yet much has changed in recent years. The Supreme Court now appears to be turning its back on the undeniable fact of discrimination and exclusion, ruling that anti-discrimination laws and remedies have gone too far. I believe that Judge Thomas will accelerate that trend and that will be destructive for our nation. 

Thomas had argued that the Supreme Court reached the right conclusion in Brown v. Board of Education but that it used the wrong legal rationale, saying it lacked a rooting in constitutional law and instead relied too much on supposed evidence of psychological damage being done to Black children by racial segregation. 

Parks, however, disagreed. One of the tweets that quoted her added the supporting citation in an additional post. As a result, we rate this claim as a “Correct attribution.” 

Sources:

“Clarence Thomas Confirmed to the Supreme Court.” HISTORY, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/thomas-confirmed-to-the-supreme-court. Accessed 8 July 2022.

"DOBBS, STATE HEALTH OFFICER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. v. JACKSON WOMEN’S HEALTH ORGANIZATION ET AL." Supreme Court of the United States, 2022. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf. Accessed 8 July 2022.

Parks, Rosa. "Rosa Parks Papers: Writings, Notes, and Statements, -1998; Statements; Nomination of Clarence Thomas, 1991." 1991. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/mss859430237/. Accessed 8 July 2022.

“Live Fact-Checking Updates: US Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade.” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/news/2022/06/24/dobbs-supreme-court-roe-wade/. Accessed 8 July 2022.

“Rosa Parks.” HISTORY, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks. Accessed 8 July 2022.

Walsh, Mark. “Thomas’s Stance on Brown v. Board Adds Fuel to Decades-Long Debate.” Education Week, 11 Sept. 1991. www.edweek.org, https://www.edweek.org/education/thomass-stance-on-brown-v-board-adds-fuel-to-decades-long-debate/1991/09. Accessed 8 July 2022.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

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