Augusta, GA — U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas did not know Judge John H. Ruffin, Jr. But… he knows where he came from. "As a lawyer and as a judge, he fought for integration and civil rights, and throughout his career he was a trailblazer," said the Associate Justice of the United State Supreme Court.
Hundreds gathered to dedicate Augusta's new courthouse, named in honor of Augusta's trailblazer Judge John H. Ruffin, Jr.
"You can say not only did he pave the way but he helped cut the bushes that laid the pavement so I could walk in that way," said State Court Judge David Watkins.
But, there was controversy in the way the dedication was put together. Some members of the minority community were not happy about not being involved in the decision to invite Justice Thomas, a jurist known for his conservative views. However, Ruffin's widow was not bothered by having Thomas as the dedication speaker.
"I have no personal trouble, I respect different issues and points of view we should listen to all points of view," said Judith Ruffin.
Thomas may have faced doubters in the crowd, but won many over with his speech and actions afterwards, spending more than an hour after the dedication greeting and talking with members of the audience.
"He understood the controversy. I told him I appreciated him coming amidst the controversy and still standing up to the plate and giving a great speech and honoring Judge Ruffin at the same time," said Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason.
"Outstanding, I think Augusta is better off and we're better off for this occasion," said Revered Nathaniel Irvin, of Old Storm Branch Baptist Church in Clearwater, SC.
Judge Carlisle Overstreet invited Justice Thomas to speak at this dedication. He says Judge Ruffin would have liked the result. "God bless his soul, he would have been happy, he would not have wanted any controversy, and I think Judge Thomas's speech indicates there should not be any," said Judge Overstreet.
"Anybody can stir that up we should focus on the people who build not the people tear down," said Justice Thomas, after the dedication.
I asked if he was surprised by the reception and whether it was a nice one from Augusta.
"Life is a nice reception I've had nothing but good there's always some fly in the ointment if you spend time worrying about the fly in the ointment you will never get anything done," he said.