Justice Clarence Thomas gets exhibit in Smithsonian's African-American museum

Many conservatives were dismayed last year when the nation's new museum devoted to African-American history opened without an exhibit on the life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

But now an exhibit on Thomas has been installed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. It opened just before the museum's one-year anniversary on Sunday.

The display recognizes both Thomas and the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the only two African-Americans ever to serve on the nation's highest court, a Smithsonian spokesperson told the Washington Times. Thomas replaced Marshall on the court after Marshall retired in 1991.

The lack of an exhibit on Thomas when the museum opened last year prompted U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to write to the museum, saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the omission, the Times reported.

Republican leaders then issued resolutions in December to try to get Thomas and his accomplishments recognized.

The Smithsonian’s 19th museum drew about 3 million visitors in its first year, making it the organization's most popular institution, the Times reported. It opened with the ringing of a church bell on Sept. 24, 2016, by the country’s first black president, Barack Obama.      

"We expected 4,000 people a day," Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum, told the Associated Press. "We get 8,000 people a day, so I can't complain about a thing."

In honor of the one-year anniversary, the museum extended its hours this past weekend. Other items on display range from a fedora owned by late pop superstar Michael Jackson to the glass-topped casket used to bury lynching victim Emmett Till.

"This has become more than a museum. This has become a pilgrimage site," Bunch said.

The $540 million museum broke ground in 2012, and construction was completed in 2016.

Bunch said the museum “has humanized history.”

"Because you have these collections, it allows people to open up to share stories to find memories. I've heard many times people say, 'I forgot, but once I saw a segregated door or once I saw that washboard it brought back those memories,'" Bunch said. "So what we wanted has happened.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.