In 1991, Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination and Anita Hill’s Senate testimony ignited the combined fuel of racism, sexism, and violence that was seeping out of our history. In response, more than 1600 signatories and their allies, as African American Women in Defense of Ourselves, signed a public proclamation of outrage and resistance that still echoes today. Read the full proclamation here.
Did you sign? Would you have signed?
Immediately following Anita Hill’s testimony, three women, Elsa Barkley Brown, Deborah King and Barbara Ransby launched an effort to raise funds to buy ads in several newspapers, including a full page in the New York Times. Galvanized women raised over $50,000 in just a few weeks, in an era without cell phones, widespread email, or texting. It was a true social media mobilization and it happened before the Internet was ubiquitous.
Yet, these women who contributed money and signed their names were not in alignment with others in their communities. Shortly before the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings began, 54% of African Americans supported his nomination to the Supreme Court; immediately after Anita Hill’s testimony, that percentage increased to as high as 70%. Indeed, Maya Angelou wrote a beautiful poem in support of Clarence Thomas.
Whether or not you signed
The 1600 signatories took collective action in 1991 but each signatory has navigated an individual journey. We invite you to share your unique perspective about your motivations for contributing to the African American Women In Defense of Ourselves effort and about your views about race, gender, violence and politics today.
If you didn’t participate, we want to hear from you as well.
At this critical time, your voice is essential to help provide insights into gender, race, regional, and generational politics in America following Anita Hill’s testimony.
I am profoundly curious about history and how we participate in it, individually and collectively. I want to explore what happens over time when we speak up.
I signed the African American Women in Defense of Ourselves proclamation in 1991. Twenty five years have passed yet many of the issues are still ripe. Sisters Testify is a history project to reconnect with as many of the other signatories as possible, and to invite others into the discussion. The last line of the proclamation is: “No one will speak for us but ourselves.”
What would we say today?
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