WASHINGTON — When Anita Hill arrived at her Brandeis University office on Columbus Day, she had an unexpected phone message waiting.
“Initially, I thought this might be a prank,” said the woman who became a household name in 1991 when she accused then-US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and ignited a fierce national debate about gender relations in the workplace.
On Hill’s voice mail was a message from Justice Thomas’s wife, Virginia.
“Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” according to the message, a transcript of which was provided to the Globe and confirmed by Hill. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”
Mrs. Thomas, a conservative activist, then closed the brief message by adding: “So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.”
Hill, in an interview with the Globe today, said she has no reason to apologize to anyone.
“I have no intention of apologizing and I stand by my testimony,” she said. “No further explanation is needed. I testified truthfully about what my experience was back in the 1980s.”
Hill, who is a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, didn’t know what to make of the call. “I didn’t know whether it was legitimate. I wanted to make sure that I spoke with the authorities and filed a report. And perhaps they could get to the bottom of it.”
She said contacted the public safety department on campus, which in turn alerted the FBI.
Mrs. Thomas could not be reached last night but in a statement provided by her publicist she confirmed that “I did place a call to Ms. Hill at her office extending an olive branch to her after all these years, in hopes that we could ultimately get passed what happened so long ago.
“That offer still stands,” the statement added. “I would be very happy to meet and talk with her if she would be willing to do the same. Certainly no offense was ever intended.”
Mrs. Thomas has recently been the focus of questions about her political group, Liberty Central, a grassroots organization that has been supporting the Tea Party movement in this year’s election campaigns and opposes what it calls the “tyranny” of President Obama’s policies.
Because the group does not have to publicly disclose its donors, some experts in judicial ethics have raised concerns about possible conflicts of interests that could arise in legal cases that come before her husband on the Supreme Court.
Hill became famous overnight in 1991 when she accused Thomas, who had been nominated to the high court by Republican President George H.W. Bush, of sexually harassing her when she worked for him in the early 1980s at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after they worked together at the Department of Education.
“He spoke about acts he had seen and pornographic films, involving such matters as women having sex with animals and women having group sex and rape scenes,” she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Thomas fiercely denied the charges, which nearly sunk his confirmation, but the confrontation ignited a firestorm of partisan charges and mobilized groups on both sides.
Supporters of the conservative Thomas, who became the second African-American to serve on the court, accused Hill of being politically motivated, noting that she waited eight years to go public with her charges and only after he was nominated to the Supreme Court.
“The idea that this is somehow a political ploy that I am involved in — nothing could be further from the truth,” Hill, who is African-American, responded at the time to critics who accused her of being put up to it by liberal black activists who disdained Thomas’s conservative views.
Others quickly came to Hill’s defense, saying she was courageous in the face of the personal attacks on her at a time when many women were fearful to come forward when sexually harassed in the workplace.
In the years since, Hill has tried to regain her privacy, but Thomas — and his wife — have referred to the charges several times.
Justice Thomas, in a 2007 book, called Hill “my most treacherous adversary,” insisting that she lied about his actions. In an interview with CBS News at the time, Mrs. Thomas, who has been married to Justice Thomas for 23 years, first raised the issue of a Hill apology, something Hill at the time also dismissed as unfounded.
Asked today why she thinks the Thomases are still reliving her testimony, Hill said, “I don’t want to speculate about what is going on in their lives.”
Bender can be reached at email@example.com.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.