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Then & Now: Anita Hill

Anita Hill testifies in 1991 about her allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas.



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Anita Hill
Clarence Thomas
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(CNN) -- Anita Hill lives a quiet existence in Massachusetts, teaching her law students and using free time for drawing and painting, but 13 years ago she was at the center of a political firestorm.

On October 11, 1991, Hill testified during the Senate confirmation hearing of then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Her sometimes graphic allegations of prior workplace sexual harassment by Thomas put a spotlight on the issue.

Hill's allegations against Thomas were made public when information from a FBI interview about the allegations was leaked to the media -- just days before the final Senate vote on his appointment. Thomas was nominated by then-President George H.W. Bush to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The vote was postponed and Hill and Thomas were subjected to committee hearings, televised live, about the accusation.

"Why was it important to come forward? ... I felt that he showed a personal indifference to the issue in his own behavior. But more importantly I thought it showed how he dealt with issues of power generally and his use of power -- in terms of intimidating me, and as it turns out other women on his staff. And how he viewed women generally, which would impact his role as a Supreme Court Justice as it had impacted his role as the chairman of the EEOC," said Hill in a recent interview with CNN.

Hill first met Thomas in 1981 when, after being introduced by a mutual friend, she became his assistant at the U.S. Department of Education. When Thomas left that role for a job with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a government watchdog group that enforces laws against discrimination, Hill followed.

It was during that time, from 1981 to 1983, according to Hill's testimony, Thomas asked her out on numerous dates and continuously talked of pornography and lewd sexual acts.

"I felt that all of those things were relevant for the Senate to consider, just as they had considered many other ways he had handled himself, many other issues in terms of how he had done his job as the chair of the EEOC. And so I felt that it was very relevant and very important for their consideration," Hill says now.

For three days, Hill, Thomas and their supporters testified about the accusations -- charges Thomas denied.

"I categorically denied all of the allegations and denied that I ever attempted to date Anita Hill, when first interviewed by the FBI. I strongly reaffirm that denial," said Thomas during his testimony.

Two days after the hearings ended, the Senate voted 52-48 in favor of Thomas' confirmation.

'A better society'

Opinions of Hill ranged from the extremely negative to the overwhelmingly positive, but the legacy of her testimony is the increased awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace.

"I think there's more support today. I think there's better understanding today. And there's a better appreciation for the fact that if any community is going to prosper, if any community is going to be seen at its best, that the women in that community have to be viewed as equally as important as the men," said Hill. "And [women] have to be able to live outside of boundaries that are placed on them because of their gender. As well as their race or their religion."

Hill, now 48, left the EEOC in 1983 to pursue a career as an educator and is currently teaching law at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

In 1998, Hill wrote her autobiography, "Speaking Truth To Power," detailing her experiences. She credits her students as being the driving force in her life.

"I see ... the faces of these young people, and I see their hearts and that they really do want change, and that they deserve it," said Hill. "They deserve a better society and so that is what motivates me and I think that I can be a part of creating that and having [been] given that chance, I don't want to blow it."

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