Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
Anita Hill Speaks Out
December 12, 1997
Anita Hill is one of 13 children of Oklahoma dirt farmers. Her great
grandparents were slaves, and at 25 she was a graduate of Yale Law
School, working in Washington, living the American Dream -- wasn't' t
My official High School consultant tells me that she has never heard of
Anita Hill. A whole generation hasn't. But what happened to Anita Hill
may well have changed the lives of all of them.
On October 11, 1991, Hill testified under oath before the Senate
Judiciary Committee that Clarence Thomas, nominee for a seat on the
Supreme Court, had sexually harassed her.
Millions of us watched while those 14 white males, sitting in a stern,
implacable row above the small black woman with the soft voice, tried to
destroy her. By the Committee's actions and by media reports, we were
led to think that Hill, not Thomas, was on trial and that she had been
In "Speaking Truth to Power" Anita Hill finally speaks out to tell the
story of what led up to and what followed her testimony on that day in
October, 1991. The book is meticulously documented and is written in
dry, passionless style that is utterly convincing.
She writes of her professional relationship with Clarence Thomas.
She first went to work in Washington as his assistant in the Department
of Education. Carefully and in detail she describes his behavior toward
her, including direct sexual references and repeated requests for her to
go out with him.
She tried to ignore his behavior, and eventually he stopped. Later,
when he moved up to EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and
offered her a job there she thought, naively, that the harassment was
over. She said, "I relied on Thomas' professionalism and hoped that
he, too, had separated personal considerations form workplace
responsibilities." But the harassment began again immediately, and
she left government service to teach law.
Why did she wait ten years to complain? The year was 1981. She was a
young black woman. He was a prominent black man. Who would have
believed her? She wanted to get on with her life and forget it. Then
he was nominated for the Supreme Court. She writes, "For years I had
spent considerable time and effort convincing myself that what happened
to me no longer mattered. For the first time I was forced to consider
that it did matter -- that the behavior was not only an offense to me
but unfitting for someone who would sit on the Supreme Court."
The book records carefully the events that led up to her appearance
before the committee, and the treatment she received there. It was a
disgrace to the United States Senate and very nearly destroyed her
She ran headlong into the twin scourges of sexism and racism. She was
criticized for being a liar and an erotomaniac for presuming to object
to sexual pressure in the workplace. And she was criticized by the
black community for having the nerve to try to bring a black man down.
Of the two, the racial problems hurt her more deeply.
But her action and her courage started a political ground swell of angry
women. Her dignified testimony and the hostile Senators simultaneously
mesmerized and appalled women across the nation. The hearings
underscored two things: that women had no representation in this
important forum, and that sexual harassment was a subject of complete
mystery to the men of the Senate. In the 1992 elections women made
huge political gains nationwide.
Women are now finding the courage to protest sexual harassment. The
number of complaints filed with the EEOC increased by over 50% in the
year following the hearing. In 1992 women and men filed a record
breaking number of complaints, some 7407 total. Hill writes, "An
explosion of challenges in the workplace led employers to take
action....what is certain is that working women welcomed the chance to
change intolerable circumstances in the workplace".
"Speaking Truth to Power," is a truly powerful report of one shameful
incident in our political history. But tremendous good for women has
come out of it, professionally and politically. There are still some
who say she lied. I don't. I believe she told the truth and he
lied. He is sitting on the Supreme Court. She is trying to put her
life back together. The American Dream!