The Conversation: Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, Nearly 20 Years Later

After wife's request for apology, explosive hearings are back in the news.

ByABC News
October 20, 2010, 7:18 AM

Oct. 20, 2010 — -- In October 1991, the Senate was set to confirm Clarence Thomas as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court when Anita Hill, a former aide to Thomas, came forward publicly with allegations of sexual harassment.

Hill's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee riveted the nation, airing live on the broadcast networks.

After three days of contentious hearings, the Senate voted to confirm Thomas as a Supreme Court justice in a narrow 52-to-48 vote. A New York Times/CBS News poll at the time found that 58 percent of Americans believed Thomas, while only 24 percent believed Hill.

Hill's words and Thomas's denial turned sexual harassment into a national discussion, prompting a wholesale reexamination of workplace policies and training procedures.

To this day, Anita Hill and her allegations are firmly linked to Justice Thomas and his reputation. That, perhaps, is why Thomas's wife, Ginny Thomas, called Hill to ask for her apology, catapulting the story back into the news all these years later.

Hill says she stands by her testimony and has nothing for which to apologize.

Today on the Conversation, we revisit the hearings that continue to draw so much attention.

"Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex," Hill said before the committee. "He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts."

"On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess," she said. "He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes."

"Can you tell the committee what was the most embarrassing of all the incidences that you have alleged," then-Senator Joe Biden, D-Del., asked Hill.

"I think the one that was the most embarrassing was his discussion of, of pornography," Hill replied.

In his appearance before the committee, Thomas forcefully denied Hill's allegations and accused the committee of racism.

"And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching," Thomas said. "I think that this today is a travesty. I think that it is disgusting. I think that this hearing should never occur in America."

Watch more "Conversation" videos here.

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