The full measure of her unforgettable trip to Washington did not confront Anita Faye Hill until she was heading home, toward the comfort of Oklahoma, away from the tumult of a city that called itself a town yet resembled no town from her middle-American past.
What happened in Washington, what failed to happen, how her expectations had been dashed, her reputation challenged -- all of that began to hit the young law professor as she traveled westward last Monday afternoon.
The homeward passage required a change of planes in Dallas. There she was, protected by family and friends as she emerged from the arrival passageway and boarded an electric cart to transport her through the airport hubbub toward the departure gate for Oklahoma City. The cart was immediately engulfed by staring faces, and then the silence broke and Hill was under assault, pummeled with hostile words and gestures from strangers in the crowd.
"Little wench!" said one young man as he rushed by the cart.
"Shame! Shame!" chided a woman, shaking her finger at the stunned Hill.
From a brood of businessmen came a stream of hisses.
"It was eerie," Hill said afterward.
On the flight to Dallas, she and her close friend, Shirley Wiegand, a colleague at the University of Oklahoma law school, reflected on Hill's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she testified that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.
"We knew we were up against a lot, but we really had no idea how brutal it would get," Wiegand said. "Anita and I viewed ourselves and our mission in overly simplistic terms, as two farm girls who were taking the truth to Washington. When we got there, it became apparent that the truth was not relevant, so Anita packed the truth up and took it home."
Anita Hill had made two pivotal visits to Washington in her life, the first lasting three years, the second five days. Both times she retreated to Oklahoma and her roots, carrying unexpected baggage of regret. Hill spoke of her feelings in an interview last week:
"I think that, boy, this is something you can learn about, how these things become so politicized, become so polarized, and people take positions on individuals and issues and there is nothing else that can be said. Anything that is not a clear and absolute support of that issue or that person is painted as unwelcome, totally. There's no balance."
She sat in the Oklahoma Law Center at a table stacked with roses and floral bouquets sent to her from admirers around the country -- for her a welcome counterpoint to the derision she faced elsewhere.
"There were times when I did want to leave," Hill said of her Washington hearing. "I did not think we were at a fact-finding hearing. There were several moments when I thought they were doing something other than trying to establish the facts."
In the interview and in interviews with her friends, she came across not as a naive farm girl, though there is that side to her, too, but as a cautious, friendly, sophisticated graduate of one of the finest law schools in the country, toughened by more challenges in her 35 years than many people endure in a lifetime. She exhibited the same self-control in the interview -- challenging questions that strayed into areas she did not want to address -- that she did in the hearing. "I think I tried to stay very even, strong and balanced throughout. You have to when something like this is going on."
In the hearings, one senator had called her a perjurer. Another had announced that his suit pockets were stuffed with letters warning him to "watch out" for her. By the end, her truthfulness had been put to a national vote, in the form of public opinion polls, and she was found wanting. More people believed Clarence Thomas than her.
To a woman whose character had been forged in a family culture where truth-telling was the first commandment, this was hard to accept.
The search for the essence of Anita Faye Hill begins at the end of a dirt road so dusty that an approaching car can be detected from a mile away. The Hill family farm is 240 acres of cotton, peanuts, soybeans, cattle, chickens, pigs, okra and tomatoes located in a place they call Lone Tree, near the small town of Morris, about 40 miles south of Tulsa. It was there that Anita, or Faye as she is still called by her family, was reared as the youngest of the 13 children of Albert and Erma Hill.
Life on the farm for Faye and her siblings was one of certainty, faith, repetition. Every child was expected to rise before 6 each morning. At dinner, each child had a biblical verse to recite. Sunday school at Missionary Baptist Church, where several relatives served as preachers, was required. Farm chores were shared but, for the children, school came first. Hill's older sister, Elreatha Hill Lee, remembers their pregnant mother once walking two miles to school on a chilly morning to check with a teacher on why the oldest daughter received two C's.
When Hill children strayed from the path, Erma Hill brought them back with a peach-tree switch. "You don't tell a lie, you never lie," Elreatha recalled. "And if you get caught in one, you get it. I remember hearing my mother say, 'If you tell a lie, you will do anything.' "
Anita Faye Hill laughed as she seconded her older sister's account: "You were required to be honest and truthful in whatever you did, no matter how hard it was at the time. Even as a kid, if you might want to forget about something or pretend it didn't happen, we didn't get away with that."
As the youngest child, Hill developed a special relationship with her mother, and in a sense more was expected of her. She was an avid reader at an early age and always a stellar student. Most of her older brothers and sisters attended nearby segregated all-black schools, but Hill began her high school years just as the county school system was integrating. She was valedictorian of the 1973 class at Morris High.
When the world sought out her high school teachers and classmates during the past two weeks, they issued a chorus of praise. "She's the most honest, intelligent person I've ever met," said Susan Clark, the white salutatorian of the class of 1973. Clark said Hill, more than anyone else, pushed her to achieve when they roomed together later at Oklahoma State University. "She was studious and it rubbed off on me," Clark said. "My year with her was my best year."
To appreciate the level of trust Hill still holds among old friends, consider the case of Chuck Casselman. Casselman was a classmate of Hill's who provided a warm anecdote to the New York Times about how on the final day of their senior year, in English class, each student rose to say farewell, and most of them said something trite and unmemorable, but Hill stood up and sang a gospel song that brought everyone to tears.
There is a context to Casselman's anecdote that makes it more powerful. It turns out, Casselman said in an interview a few days ago, that his father, Jack Casselman, began his career in the oil and gas business in Midland, Tex., and that for four years his parents shared a duplex with another young oil-business couple -- George and Barbara Bush. The Casselmans are still close to the man who became president and nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
"I'm very pro-Bush, as you might imagine," Chuck Casselman said. "But I'm very upset about the way she has been treated. . . . She was a sweet and intelligent person and I believe her totally . . . Faye is the only one who's going to get hurt by all this. I was at the Texas-Oklahoma football game last Saturday in Dallas and people in the stands were saying how sorry OU was for having someone like her. This was on the Oklahoma side! It hurt me a lot. I love her to death."
In September 1977, after earning a psychology degree with honors at Oklahoma State, Anita Faye Hill went east to fulfill her childhood ambition of becoming a lawyer. She arrived at Yale Law School without the polished aggression of some Ivy Leaguers but quickly broke through the cliques and developed a diverse and loyal gathering of friends, those who knew her best say.
During the summer after her first year, the Supreme Court issued its landmark Bakke decision permitting affirmative action, forcing her to examine what black students were doing at Yale.
"I reached the sense that we really were contributing there and it wasn't just some fluke where they said, 'We're going to have this many minority students,' " she said. "I decided there was validity to the idea of diversification."
Hill's ability to transcend racial boundaries was perhaps most evident in the gymnasium. Wearing a T-shirt that read "Coach Anita," she served as the sideline strategist for a basketball team composed of men from her study group. The team members, who called themselves "the Learned Hands," happened to be white. There was also an all-black team formed by male law students in the Black Law Students Union. When the two teams met, "she rooted for both teams," said Gary Phillips, a Learned Hand hoopster.
At the same time that her white male classmates formed their social bond with Hill, she developed close friendships with several black female law students such as Sonia Jarvis, Kim Taylor, Ivy Thomas-McKinney and Wandra Mitchell, lawyers who remain her most loyal supporters today. Jarvis, an excellent basketball player at Yale, was later Hill's roommate during her trying times in Washington.
Hill was the friend with whom everyone could talk. "There were a lot of people in my class who found Anita easy to talk to," said Stephen Carter, now a Yale law professor and author of the recent book, "Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby."
"She had that quality for a lot of people . . . levelheaded . . . understanding. A real sense of being firmly grounded in reality," Carter said.
Her teachers recall a subdued woman who carried herself with dignity. She did not volunteer answers in class, they said, but was usually ready with a correct one if called upon. Professor Geoffrey Hazard Jr. said she was "not an outstanding student, judged by her exams, but a competent student."
Her Yale friends are baffled by recent characterizations, largely from Thomas supporters, that Hill was aloof and arrogant. Her friends say that the Anita Hill on television -- sitting calmly before the committee -- is "typical Anita." Marylyn Kertz, a Washington lawyer who took a law school seminar with Hill, said she "was one of the very, very serious and thoughtful people in the class."
One classmate in her small study group was diagnosed with cancer during his third year and ordered to undergo weekly doses of chemotherapy. The student made a point of keeping his illness a secret, telling only a few friends whose help he needed during the recovery period after each treatment. Hill was among those in whom he confided and she spent several hours each weekend helping him, said the man, who asked not to be named.
Hill got her law degree and journeyed south to Washington in 1980. "I was really excited. I thought, this is where things are really happening," Hill said. "There were a number of black professionals, young people, coming from all over the country."
She joined the firm of Wald, Harkrader & Ross, where she had been a summer associate after her second year in law school. The firm had recruited a number of Yale graduates, white and black, including Gil Hardy, a partner who persuaded Hill and other black lawyers to join the firm.
A liberal Democrat, he eventually introduced Hill to Clarence Thomas, who was one of Hardy's best friends from Yale despite their opposite political views.
After nine months with the firm, which no longer exists, she accepted a job with Thomas that offered her a role in public policy.
For the next two years, Hill worked for Thomas, first at the Department of Education and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That period of her life left behind critics, principally women who came forward recently to support Thomas. "On Friday she played the role of a meek, innocent, shy Baptist girl from the South who was a victim of this big, bad man," J.C. Alvarez, a former Thomas aide, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last weekend. "I don't know who she was trying to kid, because the Anita Hill I worked with was nothing like that. She was a hard, tough woman."
Other EEOC employees who did not testify before Congress have their own views of Hill. Alvin Golub, former director of program research, described her as "a competent professional." John Seal, former director of management, said Hill "remained aloof from the other staff members." Another coworker, Tony Califa, described Hill as "a conservative person . . . a very industrious, very modest person, a very religious person, someone I instinctively liked."
Hill lived in a Capitol Hill townhouse with her friend from Yale, Sonia Jarvis. It was during her time in the maelstrom of national policymaking, first at Education and then at EEOC, Hill testified last week, that she felt she was subjected to sexual harassment by her boss, Thomas.
Hill would not address that subject during the recent interview. She did, however, say that it was the primary reason she abandoned Washington in 1983 and headed back to Oklahoma for a teaching position at the Oral Roberts law school in Tulsa. "Part of the reason for leaving was the old stuff," she said. "And I wanted to be far away from that stuff." She chose Oral Roberts, she said, because it was the only school that offered her a job and it was close to her family.
It was not an easy transition for her, moving from the excitement of national policymaking and the comfort of a large black professional cadre to teach law on a faculty with six white male colleagues at a university where law students were required to take a two-semester course called "Holy Spirit" and where faculty meetings opened with a prayer.
At Oral Roberts, as at every point in her life except Washington, Hill was almost universally admired. One of her teaching colleagues, John Stanford, said of her the other day: "The poor girl is caught in politics. I have to say I admire her. Not for one minute have I doubted her. I always thought Anita Hill was a truth-teller."
The time she spent in Tulsa was restorative for Hill. She was surrounded by family -- most of her siblings and cousins lived in Oklahoma's second largest city -- and took an active role in civic and church affairs at the Antioch Baptist Church, where she offered free legal advice and spoke to youth groups about overcoming life's obstacles.
After three years at Oral Roberts, Hill, then 30, was recruited to join the faculty at the University of Oklahoma law school in Norman, where she was the lone black and one of four women out of 35 professors. Hill said that "some racial incidents," which she declined to elaborate on, marred her first year at Oklahoma, but since then she has felt at home.
The colleague with whom Hill has spent the most time during the past two years is Shirley Wiegand, a physical fitness buff from northern Wisconsin who persuaded Hill to join her three times a week for five-mile walks around the campus. It was during their walks in September that Hill mentioned she had been contacted by Senate investigators and asked whether Clarence Thomas had ever sexually harassed her. "She was really thinking about the right thing to do," Wiegand said. "The pro was, she was asked and had a duty to tell the truth. The con was, this might impair her personal life and career."
Then, two Sundays ago, after the committee decided privately not to bring her forward, the story broke. When the press first descended on Norman in search of Thomas's accuser, Hill took refuge at Wiegand's house, and then moved into seclusion in a hotel room.
When Anita Faye Hill arrived in Washington, she came not just with a story to tell but with a life's worth of moral support as well: her parents, Albert and Erma; her brother, Ray Hill; her nephew, Eric Fennell; an army of other siblings; and her friend Shirley Wiegand. On Thursday she met with a team of lawyers, on Friday she testified, and during the weekend she spent most of her time in a hotel room tuning the Senate hearings in and out, but more often watching the Atlanta Braves or the Washington Redskins.
If Washington had not intruded, Hill said she would have spent the weekend at the Texas-Oklahoma football game and celebrating her mother's 80th birthday. Her mother escorted Hill on the long journey back to Norman and they spent most of the last week together at the daughter's red-brick house.
When she needs inspiration, Hill said, all she has to do is think about the farm in Lone Tree and her mother with 13 children and her mother's father. "That," she said, "is enough motivation for me."
Staff writer Sharon LaFraniere contributed to this report.