NORMAN, Okla. — She grew up in rural poverty in a home that did not have indoor plumbing. She was serious, hard-working and listened to her elders. And when she graduated from Yale Law School, she began a career that soon flourished.
Anita Faye Hill has become Judge Clarence Thomas' bitter antagonist by accusing her former boss of sexual harassment, but in some ways their lives are eerily similar. "She could give the same story as Judge Thomas," said Geoffrey Hazard, a Yale legal ethics expert who taught Hill and has remained a friend. "She's lived it."
Now a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, the 35-year-old Hill met Thomas in 1981 when she became special counsel to him in his role as assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education. In 1982, she agreed to become his special assistant when Thomas became chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Her friends, colleagues and students Monday drew a portrait of a woman who has strong convictions but was never particularly political, who distinguished herself among her peers but was not flashy and who always sought privacy until she came forward with an accusation that would make her life very public--and very painful.
Many of those who know her asserted a strong belief Monday that she is telling the truth. "She's an absolutely honest, decent person," said Paul Friedman, a former law school classmate and friend who practices securities law in San Francisco. "When I heard the news, there wasn't a millisecond's doubt in my mind that it happened just as Anita said it happened."
Hill grew up on a family farm outside Okmulgee, Okla., the youngest of 13 children in a family that believed in the Bible and hard work. Although she was the youngest, Nita, as she was called, took a leadership role in the family. It is a role she still plays.
An honors student, she won an undergraduate scholarship to Oklahoma State University in 1977 and another to Yale, where she graduated with a law degree in 1980. After her work with the government, Hill came back to Oklahoma in 1983 as an assistant law professor at Oral Roberts University, a job she held until 1986. "She wanted to be close to her family--I think that accounts for a lot of what she does," said Prof. Harry F. Tepker Jr., a University of Oklahoma colleague who also specializes in commercial law.
Tepker said that Hill had mentioned to him casually some weeks ago that she believed Thomas' selection for the court was "political" and that Thomas was not as qualified as some others who could have been chosen. "But she was not particularly intense about it," Tepker said. "She had said much the same thing about (Supreme Court Justice David H.) Souter."
The only black who is a full-time member of the law school faculty, Hill's convictions are apparent in her work on the campus and off. She has been on the board of a center for abused women and children, among other charitable activities. She devotes long hours to her students and has worked closely with minority-student groups.
"We can call her any time, day or night, to talk about school or a personal problem," said Joi Mathlin, a second-year law student from Tulsa who is president of the Black Law Student Assn. "She is a role model for any child or young adult, black or white."
Hill has also been active in the governance of the law school and sits on a three-person committee that drafts the law school budget. Several students, friends and colleagues said that they knew of her political convictions only in the most general way and did not know, for example, how she voted. In the same way, friends said that they knew of her deep political belief, although she never discussed it.
The law students' affection for her was evident at a press conference Monday morning in a jammed classroom at the university's law center here. Twice they interrupted Hill with standing ovations. One student kissed her on the cheek. Hill remained stiff and did not react.
Hill lives in a small, three-bedroom, brick ranch house about two miles from campus that she bought in 1989 for about $60,000. She left the house Monday to stay with a friend until the press attention abates, Dean David Swank said.
Mathlin, the law student, said that she had noticed signs of stress in Hill over the last two weeks. Hill seemed tired and preoccupied, Mathlin said, although she never disclosed the source of her anxiety to her students.
Hill's habits are so modest that some who know her said they were surprised she would step forward, although Hill hoped that her name would be known only to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducted the Thomas confirmation hearings. "Knowing her, she had to do a lot of soul-searching to reach the decision she did," said Friedman, her former law school classmate.