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Anita Hill

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Anita Hill

Anita Hill
Anita Hill at Harvard Law School, September 2014
Born Anita Faye Hill
(1956-07-30) July 30, 1956 [1]
Lone Tree, Oklahoma, US
Residence Massachusetts[2]
Nationality American
Education Attorney
Alma mater Oklahoma State University
Yale Law School
Occupation Attorney, professor
Years active 1983 – present
Employer Brandeis University
Known for Testimony against Clarence Thomas
Board member of Board of Trustees, Southern Vermont College
Awards Fletcher Foundation Fellowship;
Louis P. and Evelyn Smith First Amendment Award

Anita Faye Hill (born July 30, 1956) is an American attorney and academic. She is a professor of social policy, law and women's studies at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management.[3] She became a national figure in 1991 when she accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of sexual harassment.[4]

Early life and education

Hill was born in Lone Tree, Oklahoma, the youngest of the 13 children of Albert and Erma Hill, who were farmers.[4][5] Her family hailed from Arkansas, where her great-grandparents and her maternal grandfather, Henry Eliot, were born into slavery.[6] Hill was raised in the Baptist faith.[4]

After graduating as valedictorian from Morris High School, Hill enrolled at Oklahoma State University, receiving a bachelor's degree with honors, in psychology 1977.[4][5] She went on to Yale Law School, obtaining her Juris Doctor degree with honors in 1980.[4][7]

She was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1980 and began her law career as an associate with the Washington, D.C. firm of Wald, Harkrader & Ross. In 1981, she became an attorney-adviser to Clarence Thomas who was then the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. When Thomas became Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1982, Hill went along to serve as his assistant, leaving the job in 1983.

Hill then became an assistant professor at the Evangelical Christian O. W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University where she taught from 1983 to 1986.[8] In 1986, she joined the faculty at the University of Oklahoma College of Law where she taught commercial law and contracts.[9][10]

Clarence Thomas controversy

In 1991, President [12] until a report of a private interview of Hill by the FBI was leaked to the press.[11][13] The hearings were then reopened, and Hill was called to publicly testify.[11][13] Hill said in the October 1991 televised hearings that Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her supervisor at the Department of Education and the EEOC. When questioned on why she followed Thomas to the second job after he had already allegedly harassed her, she said she had wanted to work in the civil rights field, she had no alternative job, "and at that time, it appeared that the sexual overtures ... had ended."[5]

According to Hill, during her two years of employment as Thomas's assistant, Thomas had asked her out socially many times,[7] and after she refused, he used work situations to discuss sexual subjects.[5][7] "He spoke about...such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes" she said, adding that on several occasions Thomas graphically described "his own sexual prowess" and the details of his anatomy.[5] Hill also recounted an instance in which Thomas examined a can of Coke on his desk and asked, "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?"[5]

Four female witnesses waited in the wings to reportedly support Hill's credibility, but they were not called,[13][14] due to what the Los Angeles Times described as a private, compromise deal between "aggressive, gloves-off" Republicans and the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Democrat Joe Biden.[15] According to Time magazine, one of the witnesses, Angela Wright, may not have been considered credible on the issue of sexual harassment because she had been fired from the EEOC by Thomas.[14]

Hill agreed to take a polygraph test. The results supported the veracity of her statements;[16] Thomas declined the test. He made a vehement and complete denial, saying that he was being subjected to a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks" by white liberals who were seeking to block a black conservative from taking a seat on the Supreme Court.[17][18] After extensive debate, the United States Senate confirmed Thomas to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52–48, the narrowest margin since the 19th century.[14][19]

Thomas's supporters questioned Hill's credibility, claiming she was delusional or had been spurned, leading her to seeking revenge.[13] They cited the time delay of ten years between the alleged behavior by Thomas and Hill's accusations, and noted that Hill had followed Thomas to a second job and later had personal contacts with Thomas, including giving him a ride to an airport—behavior which they said would be inexplicable if Hill's allegations were true.[7][9][13][20] Hill countered that she came forward because she felt an obligation to share information on the character and actions of a person who was being considered for the Supreme Court.[13] She testified that after leaving the EEOC, she had had two "inconsequential" phone conversations with Thomas, and had seen him personally on two occasions; once to get a job reference and the second time when he made a public appearance in Oklahoma where she was teaching.[5]

Doubts about the veracity of Hill's 1991 testimony persisted long after Thomas took his seat on the Court. They were furthered by American Spectator writer David Brock in his 1993 book The Real Anita Hill,[14] though he later recanted the claims he had made, described his book as "character assassination", and apologized to Hill.[21][22] After interviewing a number of women who alleged that Thomas had frequently subjected them to sexually explicit remarks, Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson wrote a book which concluded that Thomas had lied during his confirmation process.[19][23] Time magazine remarked in 1994, however, that "Their book doesn't quite nail that conclusion."[14] In 2007, Kevin Merida, a coauthor of another book on Thomas, remarked that what happened between Thomas and Hill was "ultimately unknowable" by others, but that it was clear that "one of them lied, period."[24][25] Writing in 2007, Neil Lewis of The New York Times remarked that, "To this day, each side in the epic he-said, she-said dispute has its unmovable believers".[26]

In 2007, Clarence Thomas published his autobiography, My Grandfather's Son, in which he revisited the controversy, calling Hill his "most traitorous adversary" and saying that pro-choice liberals, who feared that he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if he were seated on the Supreme Court, used the scandal against him.[26] He described Hill as touchy and apt to overreact, and her work at the EEOC as mediocre.[26][27] He acknowledged that three other former EEOC employees had backed Hill's story, but said they had all left the agency on bad terms.[27] He also wrote that Hill "was a left-winger who'd never expressed any religious sentiments whatsoever...and the only reason why she'd held a job in the Reagan administration was because I'd given it to her."[28] Hill denied the accusations in an op-ed in the New York Times saying she would not "stand by silently and allow [Justice Thomas], in his anger, to reinvent me".[2][29]

In October 2010, Thomas's wife Virginia, a conservative activist, left a voicemail at Hill's office asking that Hill apologize for her 1991 testimony. Hill initially believed the call was a hoax and referred the matter to the Brandeis University campus police who alerted the FBI.[18][30] After being informed that the call was indeed from Virginia Thomas, Hill told the media that she did not believe the message was meant to be conciliatory and said, "I testified truthfully about my experience and I stand by that testimony."[18] Virginia Thomas responded that the call had been intended as an "olive branch".[18]


Public interest in, and debate over, Hill's testimony is said to have launched modern-day public awareness and open discussion of the issue of workplace [31][32] One year later, harassment complaints filed with the EEOC were up 50 percent and public opinion had shifted in Hill's favor.[32] Private companies also started training programs to deter sexual harassment.[31] When journalist Cinny Kennard asked Hill in 1991 if she would testify against Thomas all over again, Hill answered, "I'm not sure if I could have lived with myself if I had answered those questions any differently."[33]

The manner in which the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee challenged and dismissed Hill's accusations of sexual harassment angered women politicians and lawyers.[34] According to D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Hill's treatment by the panel also contributed to the large number of women elected to Congress in 1992, "women clearly went to the polls with the notion in mind that you had to have more women in Congress", she said.[2] In their anthology, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave, editors Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith described black feminists mobilizing "a remarkable national response to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy.[35]

In 1992 a feminist group began a nationwide fundraising campaign and then obtained matching state funds to endow a professorship at the University of Oklahoma Law School in honor of Hill.[10][36] Conservative Oklahoma state legislators reacted by demanding Hill's resignation from the university, then introducing a bill to prohibit the university from accepting donations from out-of-state residents, and finally attempting to pass legislation to close down the law school.[10] E. Z. Million, a local conservative activist and business consultant, organized protests and compared Hill to the assassin of President Kennedy.[10][36] Certain officials at the university attempted to revoke Hill's tenure.[37] After five years of pressure, Hill resigned.[10]

Later career

Anita Hill and Charles Ogletree at a screening of Anita in September 2014

Hill accepted a position as a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Social Change at University of California, Berkeley in January 1997,[38] but soon joined the faculty of Brandeis University—first at the Women's Studies Program, later moving to the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. In 2011, she also took a counsel position with the Civil Rights & Employment Practice group of the plaintiffs' law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.[8]

Over the years, Hill has provided commentary on gender and race issues on national television programs, including 60 Minutes, Face the Nation and Meet the Press.[4][8] She has been a speaker on the topic of commercial law as well as race and women's rights.[8] She is also the author of articles that have been published in the New York Times and Newsweek.[4][8] and has contributed to many scholarly and legal publications in the areas of international commercial law, bankruptcy, and civil rights.[8][39]

In 1995 Hill co-edited Race, Gender and Power in America: The Legacy of the Hill-Thomas Hearings with Emma Coleman Jordan.[4][40] In 1997 Hill published her autobiography, Speaking Truth to Power,[41] in which she chronicled her role in the Clarence Thomas confirmation controversy[4][6] and wrote that creating a better society had been a motivating force in her life.[42] She contributed the piece "The Nature of the Beast: Sexual Harassment" to the 2003 anthology [43] In 2011 Hill published her second book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home, which focuses on the sub-prime lending crisis that resulted in the foreclosure of many homes owned by African-Americans.[13][44] She calls for a new understanding about the importance of home and its place in the American Dream.[6]

In popular culture

Hill was the subject of the 2013 documentary film Anita by director Freida Lee Mock, which chronicles her experience during the Clarence Thomas scandal.[45][46] Her case also inspired the 1994 Law & Order episode "Virtue", about a young lawyer who feels pressured to sleep with her supervisor at her law firm.[47]

Hill will be portrayed by actress Kerry Washington in the upcoming HBO film Confirmation (film).[48]

Awards and honors

In 2005 Hill was selected as a Fletcher Foundation Fellow. In 2008 she was awarded the Louis P. and Evelyn Smith First Amendment Award[49] by the Ford Hall Forum. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for Southern Vermont College in Bennington, Vermont.[50] Her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 is listed as #69 in American Rhetoric's Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (listed by rank).[51][52]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i
  5. ^ a b c d e f g
  6. ^ a b c "Anita Hill’s book on gender, race and home creating a stir", “BrandeisNOW”, 30 September 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d
  8. ^ a b c d e f
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ a b c d e
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ a b c d e f g
  14. ^ a b c d e
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c d
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ By 2004, Brock had made a political about-face from conservative to liberal and founded the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters for America
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b c
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b
  32. ^ a b
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ a b
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ "Anita (2013)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  46. ^ Film Festivals and Indie Films (January 16, 2014). "Anita Official Trailer 1 (2014) - Documentary HD". YouTube. Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^

External links

  • Faculty profile at Brandeis University
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
    • , January 23, 1997.Speaking Truth to Power interview with Hill on Booknotes
  • Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding HomeAudio lecture: Anita Hill discusses on October 4, 2011, on Forum Network.
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