Anita Hill Defends Her Legacy

Two decades after her seismic testimony, she doesn't shy away from talking about it.

Getty Images

Anita Hill just wants everyone to be clear. A few seconds into my question about her “allegations” concerning Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings, she politely, but firmly, interjects.

“When you say ‘allegations,’ it suggests that I was bringing some kind of claim against someone,” she says, apologizing for the interruption. “That was not the case. I was giving testimony about my experience of working for an individual, testimony that read to the character and the qualification of an individual who was going to be sitting on the highest court of the country and given a lifetime appointment to that court. A lot of people have been confused by this kind of language — ‘allegations’ and ‘trial.’ People start to ask whether I proved my case. Then they say, ‘Wait a minute. If she didn’t prove it, then why do we even care about it?’ “

Twenty years after that testimony, people certainly do still care about it. The anniversary this month has prompted numerous reflections on how Hill’s account of sexually inappropriate behavior by Thomas — her former boss at both the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — transformed the nation’s views on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Last week Hill, now a professor of law, social policy and women’s studies at Brandeis University, was honored at a retrospective conference at New York’s Hunter College on the social impact of the Clarence Thomas hearings. The occasion has also refueled criticism from skeptics convinced that she lied.

Questioning her motives for coming forward with her claims, Thomas supporters point out that she only brought them up years after the fact, when he was a Supreme Court nominee. An unfazed Hill shrugs off the controversy surrounding her. “I understand that people will believe differently, but I ask them to look at the record,” she says. “It was truthful testimony, it was important testimony, and I have no regrets for having made it.”

Lonely Testimony

Hill never intended to have an open confrontation with Thomas. Her private statements to the FBI regarding Thomas’ conduct were made public only after being leaked to the press shortly before the final Senate vote. Once she was called to testify, senators grilled her on the stand for days.

Her exhaustive testimony turned the proceedings into must-see television. Hill said that Thomas frequently talked about pornography in the office, referencing bestiality and a porno-film character named Long Dong Silver, in addition to boasting of his own sexual prowess. She claimed that he pressured her for dates and, in the hearing’s most infamous anecdote, suggested to her that someone had put pubic hairs on his can of Coca-Cola. Thomas denied the accusations.