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Anita Hill: Clarence Thomas hearings 23 years ago unfair

Anita Hill became a household name in 1991 when she testified in the highly-charged Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings
Anita Hill talks historic hearing, new documentary "Anita" 07:32

On October 11, 1991, people in more than 20 million homes tuned in to watch a young, black law professor named Anita Hill.

She testified before an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. Hill said she endured repeated acts of sexual harassment while working for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas 10 years earlier, at two government agencies.

The graphic allegations divided the country over race, gender and politics. The hearings sparked a national debate about sexual harassment.

The Senate confirmed Thomas 52 to 48, the narrowest margin in a century. Thomas denied the allegations, calling the hearings a "circus" and claiming it was a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves."

Thomas has always maintained his innocence.

Hill returned to her job, but life was never the same.

Hill is now part of a new documentary called "Anita," to be released in select theaters next Friday.

The documentary is a chance, Hill said on "CTM," to remind people of the issues raised 23 years ago.

"Because I teach on a university campus, I am aware that we have a whole generation of people who have left, who have been born since the hearing, gone into the workplace, graduated from college. Some people have gone into the military," she said. "And these issues continue. ...And now a new generation is facing them. And we need to come to terms with our past so that we can learn and move forward."

Looking to her past and her testimony, Hill said she remembers being surprised by all the press conferences and statements that were made about her outside the hearings. She said they were "so far from what I expected to happen."

"I expected to be able to give my testimony, for them to ask probing questions because I really wanted people to understand exactly what had happened. But I didn't think that all of the outside campaigning that was done against my testimony, by the people who were supposed to be determining what the truth was, was appropriate."

Hill continues to argue the hearings were "unfair." "The people who are the finders of fact, the triers of truth, were outside campaigning against me," she said. "It would be like having a judge on a judicial panel outside giving press conferences about one of the witnesses. You can't have a fair hearing."

The questions, too, were unfair, according to Hill. "They were ill-informed questions," she said. "They were drawing on myths and things that had not been proven, that no one had sworn to. Statements that I don't even know they are accurate statements. Sen. [Alan] Simpson said he had letters and faxes, but when asked to present them, he refused to present them. I don't even know if those things were, in fact, true."

Since testifying, Hill said she has seen changes. "The Civil Rights Law passed in 1991. For the first time women when they proved their claims were able to fully recover the damages, the losses they had suffered. That was monumental. But, you know, as important as the women running for Congress and the greater attention that we had with women going forward and filing complaints, were the public conversations and the private conversations that people had with their own family members, stories that they had never shared before. And our ability to talk about the issue as a society has moved because of those conversations."

Hill said her life has changed in "so many ways" since she testified. "Because of the attention it brought, because of the thousands of letters that I have from people around, talking about what the experiences meant to them in their workplaces. ... Since 1991, we've come to terms with the fact that, yes, sexual harassment is wrong and it does matter and it exists, it's prevalent, but we still haven't figured out exactly what to do about it. And so, in addition to my career as a professor and as educator and as a lawyer, I've been able to go out and try to help people understand how we can move forward and what we do need to do about it."

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