Meeting Anita Hill is evidence that the days eventually get better. "It's a good life," she says, now a relaxed 49-year-old professor of social policy, law, and women's studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. But that good life didn't emerge overnight.
At the time of the hearings, the public knew little about Anita Hill beyond the nature of her complaints regarding Thomas. Through her testimony, she revealed that she had graduated from Yale Law School, joined the Department of Education, where she first worked with Thomas, and moved on to the EEOC with him. In her azure blue suit, she looked like a church lady—slightly naive, a little prim.
Behind the general sketch, however, was a woman who definitely would not be pushed around; her family had put up with an awful lot already. Her parents were the grandchildren of slaves on all sides. Married in their mid-teens, they started working on an Oklahoma farm for 75 cents a day and raised 13 children, Anita being the youngest. Remarkably, for such a large, poor African-American family, high aspirations were not an option; they were required. The fact that most of the kids went to college—including the eldest daughter, at a time when it was rare for a black woman to hold a white-collar job—stuns even Hill. "To think that these very young parents out on a farm in Oklahoma wanted their first daughter—their daughter—to go to college, and just really insisted on it…," she says. "I think they were way ahead of their time."
Hill lived up to the family's academic expectations and did her best to mark her environment in small ways. Girls in her high school, for example, enrolled in four years of home economics; many joined the Future Homemakers of America. Hill instead signed up for soil judging with the Future Farmers of America, lining up alongside the boys in their blue corduroy jackets with embroidered chapter names and medallions. "None of the girls were doing it. I was good at it. I grew up on a farm. Why couldn't I judge soil as well as any guy?" she says, laughing.
She avidly followed the 1960s civil rights marches and sit-ins. The feminist movement appealed to her, with its combination of street activism and courtroom battles. As an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University, Hill found research biology yielding to law as her area of interest. "I liked the professionalism of the women lawyers," she says. "They were people who were really bringing about change."
We Hear You!