Heller Professor Anita Hill Appears on NBC's Today Show

September 20, 2007

NBC News Transcripts, SHOW: Saturday Today, Saturday, September 15, 2007

Anita Hill talks about being in national spotlight accusing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment 16 years ago

LESTER HOLT, co-host: She emerged into the national spotlight nearly 16 years ago during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas and became a symbol for sexual harassment in the workplace. With Justice Thomas' memoir hitting bookstores next month, we decided to catch up with Anita Hill to see how her life was changed by that moment in history. She was the reluctant witness, but when challenged in the glare of a Senate hearing room, stood her ground in a `he said/she said' that divided and transfixed the country.

Ms. ANITA HILL: (From October 11, 1991 hearings) After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters.

HOLT: Anita Hill was an unknown law professor and former co-worker of Clarence Thomas, but her shocking allegations of crude sexual remarks by Thomas overnight made her a household name.

Ms. HILL: (From October 11, 1991 hearings) Went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, `Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?'

HOLT: Thomas called the stories flatly untrue and a political smear campaign.

Mr. CLARENCE THOMAS: (From October 11, 1991 hearings) From my standpoint, as a black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching.

HOLT: The hearings took on the tone of a trial, heated and confrontational. Eventually, Thomas was confirmed to the court and Hill returned to private life. An ugly chapter was over. But the nation was left to wonder who was telling the truth.

Ms. HILL: I was portrayed as crazy. I was portrayed as someone with an axe to grind. I was portrayed as someone who was in love with Clarence Thomas.

HOLT: Today, Hill is a professor of social policy, law and women studies at Brandeis University just outside Boston.

Are you still recognized on the streets?

Ms. HILL: Yes, I'm recognized on the streets in funny ways, in funny places where I wouldn't expect it.

HOLT: She says she has never fully put the episode behind her.

Clarence Thomas has an autobiography coming out soon. Are you bracing yourself for that?

Ms. HILL: He has made clear that he thought that a confirmation hearing really was an attempt by politicians, really, to crucify him or the high-tech lynching of Clarence Thomas. So I can't imagine that there will be new things coming out in this biography--autobiography that I have not heard or that he hasn't even himself said before.

HOLT: Hill says she hasn't had any personal contact with Thomas since the hearings, and her professional assessment of him is carefully measured.

What kind of justice do you think he's been?

Ms. HILL: I don't pretend to be objective about Clarence Thomas as a justice, and I would be dishonest if I said I am objective. But from my reading of the cases, I don't think he's been a particularly convincing justice.

HOLT: Hill takes some credit for the gender revolution on Capitol Hill that followed her testimony. There were just two women in the US Senate when Clarence Thomas was confirmed. By the next election, there were five more. But the Supreme Court has been another story.

There's one fewer woman on the bench now. When you talked about progress and you--and you look at the shape of the Supreme Court, what does that make you think?

Ms. HILL: Disappointed. I'm disappointed. It is bad that we don't have better representation--general representation throughout the federal judiciary. But to move backwards on this issue, it's devastating for me as a lawyer.

HOLT: Hill has embraced her notoriety as a spring board to advocate for a range of issues.

Ms. HILL: I'm still teaching, but it has changed my life tremendously. I started speaking and talking about issues of gender equality in particular.

HOLT: The requests kept coming, she says, as her voice and the issues evolved over the years.

Ms. HILL: It's an activism now that's really based in research and a better understanding of some of the issues that face women and people of color today.

HOLT: So you spoke out recently during the Imus controversy and those horrible comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Did you think we had come past that kind of comment?

Ms. HILL: I'm always very hopeful. And sometimes what I hope maybe clouds exactly what I think, where I think we are. Many of us have come far beyond those kinds of comments. And I think the public response to Imus shows that.

HOLT: As she moves forward, Hill is also looking back. She received over 20,000 letters in the months after the hearing, letters she now wants to revisit.

Ms. HILL: I'm going to go back and look at what those letters say about where we were as a society then and hopefully what they say about how we can move forward.

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