Anita Hill Talks Civil Rights

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On July 2 the 1964 Civil Rights Act turns 50. This sweeping piece of legislation outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It also ended segregation in schools and workplaces and made voter registration barriers like poll taxes illegal. I spoke with Anita Hill before she gave a keynote address about the Civil Rights Act at an event held by Equal Rights Advocates. We talked about the civil rights movement, her role models, and the lessons she learned from testifying against Clarence Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

How has the Civil Rights Act influenced you personally?

It’s interesting. I grew up in rural Oklahoma. I had parents who voted regularly so that part of the movement didn’t necessarily resonate with me. I grew up with 12 siblings and [many] of them went to segregated schools. But my brother and sister closest to me in age went integrated schools so I could relate to that part of the movement. I never experienced the violence, but when I saw the young people like Diane Nash and John Lewis putting themselves on the line, when I saw children being hosed and being arrested it was real for me. As an adult I’ve grown to appreciate the profound effect of these times.

What impact has the civil rights movement have on your career choice?

The first time that I understood that I could be a lawyer was after seeing Patricia Harris. She was the first black, female lawyer I had ever seen. I saw Barbara Jordan. I saw Constance Baker Motley actively representing plaintiffs who were trying to get into segregated schools in the South. These women in the movement inspired me.

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