Anita Hill Is Welcomed As a Heroine

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, Page 001025 The New York Times Archives

Anita Hill stood before a microphone in the Rainbow Pavilion and looked out at the crowd with the calm, impassive gaze she had directed at members of the Senate Judiciary Committee three weeks before in an appearance that riveted and divided the country.
But last night she was treated to an unequivocal heroine’s welcome, as elegantly dressed guests jostled for a glimpse.

In her first public appearance since Clarence Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court despite her accusation of sexual harassment, Ms. Hill accepted an award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in a reception room at the top of 30 Rockefeller Center.

“I cannot tell you what this award means to me at this time,” said Ms. Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, standing with her hands clapsed over a notebook. “These past few weeks I have received thousands of letters from women around the country who are telling me that what I experienced is not only my story, but also the story of African-American women in the work place and indeed, the story of all women.” Dinkins Is ‘Proud’

Ms. Hill, who was mobbed by photographers when she arrived — an hour an a half late because her plane was delayed — was greeted at the door by Mayor David N. Dinkins, who clasped her hand and told her, “We’re proud as hell.”

As they waited, the crowd of prominent women from business, academia and government had mingled and checked their wristwatches, sipping champagne, nibbling on canapes and trying to hear themselves talk over the strains of an electric keyboard. Mr. Dinkins, in a tuxedo, worked the room, greeting old friends. Reserve melted once Ms. Hill entered and was greeted with gasps of recognition and applause.

Wearing a black, yellow and red plaid wool jacket above a red skirt, Ms. Hill stood smiling pleasantly as men and women surged around her. One young black woman, doubled over by the crush of people edging behind her, looked up and told Ms. Hill, “Thank you, really. Thank you.” Edward Lewis, publisher of Essence magazine, managed to find his way to Ms. Hill, handed her his business card and murmured, “We need to talk.”

She was cheered when she concluded her brief thank-you statement by asking, “Are we ready to hear the stories of women in this country today?” and, “Are we ready to respond to the stories we all have to tell?”
Women in the audience shouted “Amen!” when the chairwoman of the organization, Jewell Jackson McCabe, said, “I have a sense of history standing next to Anita Hill.” Cries of ‘Shame’

The glowing reception in New York was somewhat different from her return to Oklahoma from Washington after the hearings, a journey in which triumph was laced with moments of derision. While changing planes at a Dallas airport on her way home, she was accosted by strangers.

A fellow law professor and close friend, Shirley Wiegard, recalled that one woman shook her finger and chided, “Shame, shame.” A group of businessmen hissed as she walked by. “It was her first contact with reality after three days of being holed up in a hotel room,” Ms. Wiegard recalled. “It was very ugly.”

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women had invited Professor Hill as the guest of honor at a reception celebrating the organization’s 10th anniversary. Ms. McCabe said that she had telephoned Ms. Hill with an invitation “right after the debacle.” She said that Ms. Hill “was thrilled” and had accepted immediately.

Glamour magazine, which late last month added Ms. Hill to its list of 10 Women of the Year, will present her with another award on Monday.

The Coalition has given awards over the years to such prominent black women as Coretta Scott King and Rosa L. Parks. When she introduced Ms. Hill, Ms. McCabe said, “The voice of moral authority in the land has been brought to the table by an African-American woman whose back is strong.”

Ms. Hill was given the Isa D. Wells award, named for a feminist reporter who wrote about the segregated South, as well as a Steuben crystal American flag identical to one commissioned for Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Generals Colin L. Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf during the Operation Welcome Home parade in New York City.

Ms. McCabe said there had been no disagreement within her organization, which is politically liberal, about honoring Ms. Hill. She dismissed the mixed feelings that greeted Ms. Hill in her home state. “Perhaps the average Oklahoman is confused and not as enlightened,” she said. ‘A Lot of Stress’

Ms. Hill, who had not spoken to reporters since her last news conference at the University after the hearings concluded, had told her university colleagues that she wanted to resume a semblance of normalcy. She has found that difficult.

Describing Ms. Hill as “under a lot of stress,” Ms. Weigard said that Ms. Hill has kept a hectic pace trying to answer phone calls and letters and monitoring news stories about herself. “She hasn’t had time to really think about what happened, she has been so busy — she is still on automatic pilot.”

In New York City, the Mayor and other elected officials, as well as some of the city’s most prominent black citizens, have repeatedly commended Ms. Hill for her courage. But even at last night’s event, there were a few guests who said they had some doubts about her account. One member of the National Coalition, a woman from California who insisted on anonymity, said she thought Ms. Hill might have had personal, ulterior motives.

“I think she admired him, and I think she wanted more from him than he gave,” she said, with a shrug, referring to Justice Thomas.

But the Manhattan Borough President, Ruth W. Messinger, who ran to get Ms. Hill a glass of water when she arrived, said she had no doubts. “Not a single one,” she said. “To me, what she said and how she said it rang true.”

Correction: November 4, 1991

An article in some editions on Saturday about Anita Hill’s appearance in New York City misidentified the award she received from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. It is the Ida B. Wells award.