Opinion

The Woman Not Called During the Clarence Thomas Hearings

Angela Wright Shannon on ‘Confirmation,’ Joe Biden and What She Would Have Said

Angela Wright Shannon (Photo courtesy of Ms. Shannon)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The political theater that put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, and Anita Hill and the issue of sexual harassment in the national conversation happened in 1991, but the recent HBO movie "Confirmation"  rehashed those debates.  

Angela Wright Shannon, then known as Angela Wright — or the other woman who accused Thomas of inappropriate words and behavior — got to see herself portrayed by Academy Award-winning Jennifer Hudson in that film, which she was asked to consult on but chose not to. She heard characters repeat the words of a column she wrote, not for publication but for a writing sample, which was leaked to the office of Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Joseph Biden  and led to a subpoena.  

[Related: At Stake in Anita Hill movie: Joe Biden's Legacy] When I was features editor of The Charlotte Observer in the mid-1990s, Shannon was a reporter on my staff. She had worked for Thomas in the 1980s as director of public affairs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Now 61, she works in Charlotte as a freelance writer, editor and actor and cares for her 50-year-old developmentally delayed and deaf sister, Cheryl. After watching the HBO movie, she decided she still had something to say.  

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 2006. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 2006. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

On "Confirmation": “They took some liberties, but I felt like the movie was true to the sense of what was going on there."  

[Related: HBO Film Revives Clash Over Clarence Thomas] Hudson’s performance: “I thought she pretty much nailed me, having never met me. The only issue I had was, I don’t understand why she had to be hanging around the Greyhound bus station. We do have airports down here in ‘North Cackalacky.’”  

Biden in "Confirmation": “A lot of the criticism for the movie is that it made Chairman Biden appear weak and ineffective — and he was. The Republicans metaphorically stoned Anita Hill, while the Democrats, Biden being the gatekeeper, let it happen ... To me, having worked on both sides of the aisle — Republican and Democratic — what I know for sure, Republicans are like bare-fisted street brawlers, Democrats do pillow fights.”  

Working with Thomas: “He came to my apartment one night, just showed up. It was really awkward, just talking, but he would always say little stuff like ‘I think I’ll date you.’ We used to do these [EEOC] workshops around the country. … He asked me, ‘what size are your breasts?’ ... It wasn’t like I was afraid of him. To me it was just stuff he said and he did. … Consider that he was at the EEOC, the agency that’s charged with fighting discrimination in the workplace.”  

“It bothers me that people didn’t get to see all of him because they painted this nice conservative Republican. … If you knew the whole man and some of the other ways he treated people, maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult for you to understand that yes, he’s a sexual harasser, too, because he was no respecter of people on so many other levels.”  

“I think maybe I’ve seen one picture of him where he smiles and even then it looks forced. I see an angry bitter man. While many people may think it’s a result of the hearings, that’s the man I always saw him to be.”  

Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas tesifies during his 1991 hearing before Senate Judiciary. (PHOTO BY MICHAEL JENKINS)
Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas tesifies during his 1991 hearing before Senate Judiciary. (Michael Jenkins/CQ Roll Call file photo)

What Thomas has said: “He says he fired me because he heard that I called somebody the F-word [faggot] and he wasn’t going to take it. Number one, it never happened. It’s bothersome that nobody on the committee even bothered to probe. If they had probed just a little bit, they probably could have realized he wasn’t telling the truth, just asked him where did that happen and what did you say to her.”  

[Editor's Note: In 1994, the Washington Post found the person Shannon supposedly slurred, and he also said the incident never happened.] Legacy of the hearings: “A year after the hearings, a record number of women were elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The whole issue [of sexual harassment] not only was discussed openly but you see companies actually spending the energy and time to say here’s what you don’t do. There’s increased sensitivity in the workplace.”  

Not testifying: “It may have been divine intervention that kept me off the stand. In re-visiting how poised and professional Anita Hill was, I probably would not have been that person because they were so nasty, particularly Sen. [Alan] Simpson and Sen. [Arlen] Specter, because they were so nasty and so condescending. I don’t think I could have maintained the grace and dignity of Anita Hill.”  

“It would have been nice to have been able to defend myself.”  

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.