Anita Hill Biography

Author, Activist, Lawyer, Educator, Professor(1956–)
Anita Hill is best known for her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Synopsis

Anita Hill was born in Oklahoma in 1956 and excelled in her studies, gaining admission to Yale Law School. After brief employment in a private practice, Hill accepted a position working for Clarence Thomas at the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and later the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After several years as a professor of law, Hill's past experiences with Thomas were thrust into the spotlight when she was called to give testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings for his appointment to the Supreme Court. During the hearings, Hill alleged that Thomas had frequently sexually harassed her during her employment. The committee ultimately chose to ignore Hill's testimony, and Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court, but Hill's experiences made her a national symbol and brought new attention to matters of equality and discrimination in the workplace. She is currently a professor at Brandeis University.

Early Life and Education

Anita Faye Hill was born in the rural town of Lone Tree, Oklahoma, on July 30, 1956. The youngest of 13 children, she was raised in a strongly religious environment on her parents' farm. She attended Morris High School and was an excellent student, earning straight As and graduating as valedictorian of her class. After high school, Hill enrolled at Oklahoma State University, where she again excelled, graduating with honors and a B.A. in psychology in 1977.

After a brief internship with a local judge redirected Hill’s interests to law, she applied and was accepted to the prestigious Yale Law School, where she was just one of the very few black students in a class of 160. Hill received her J.D. from the institution in 1980.

Fateful Career Move

After her admittance to the Washington D.C. bar, Hill immediately found work as an associate with the private law firm Ward, Harkrader & Ross, where she focused primarily on banking litigation. In 1981, however, Hill made what would prove to be a fateful career move, accepting a position as legal adviser to Clarence Thomas, then head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. According to Hill, it was during this time that Thomas began his harassment of her, making frequent sexual advances and explicit remarks. However, when his harassment eventually stopped, Hill decided to follow Thomas to his next post as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, during which time she worked as his assistant. Hill would later contend that it was at this point that Thomas resumed his harassment, prompting her to leave her job for a teaching position at the Oral Roberts University in Tulsa after she was hospitalized for stress-related issues.

Three years later, Hill became a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law, where she taught contract and commercial law. In 1989, she became the school’s first tenured black professor and also held an important post in the office of the provost.

Senate Hearings

In September 1991, Anita Hill was approached by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was in the midst of its hearings for Clarence Thomas, President George H. W. Bush’s nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court. Originally reluctant to dredge up the past, Hill would later claim that she felt compelled to reveal Thomas’s harassment because of the influential nature of the position he would be in. When the subsequent statements she made to the FBI and the committee became public, a media firestorm ensued, and the Senate decided that the matter would need to be further investigated.

On October 11, 1991, Anita Hill appeared before the committee in televised hearings that were watched by millions and publicly reiterated her allegations of Thomas’s sexual harassment. Several of the senators, however, attempted to discredit her testimony, suggesting that she had either made up, exaggerated or imagined the events. When Thomas’s turn came to address the committee, he denied all of the accusations, painting a much more innocuous picture of events and asserting that the whole matter had been a liberal concoction aimed at thwarting his appointment to the Supreme Court.

Ultimately much of the Senate chose to look past Hill’s testimony. Thomas’s nomination was confirmed on October 16, 1991, by a vote of 52–48, the slimmest margin for any judge on the current court.

Legacy and Aftermath

Following her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hill received an onslaught of requests for interviews and offers to tell her story, most of which she refused. However, by speaking out about her own experiences—and remaining steadfast in the face of accusations made by white male senators—Hill had become something of a national symbol and brought a new public awareness to issues of equality, sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. In the time since her hearings, much has been written about the matter. For her part, Hill returned to teaching and occasionally accepted offers for speaking engagements, though these tended to focus on matters of sexual harassment in general rather than on personal details of her life.

After several years of pressure from conservative members of the University of Oklahoma faculty, Hill resigned her professorship, and in 1997 her autobiography, Speaking Truth to Power, was published by Doubleday. That same year, she became professor of law, public policy and women’s studies at Brandeis University, where she still teaches and is senior adviser to the school’s provost.

In 2011, Hill published another book, Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home. A documentary about the Senate hearings, Anita, was released in 2014. And an HBO film adaptation of the proceedings, Confirmation, was released in mid-April 2016, starring Kerry Washington as Hill and Wendell Pierce as Thomas. 

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