11 24 2014
  4:36 pm  
     •     
The Wake of Vanport oral history
McMenamins

Retired Justice Lillian McEwen was born, raised and educated in Washington, D.C. Her stellar legal career there spanned several decades, including stints as a prosecutor, Capitol Hill staff counsel, criminal defense attorney, law professor and federal judge. Judge McEwen recently published her memoir, "D.C. Unmasked & Undressed," a steamy tell-all chronicling her sexually-adventurous private life, paying particular attention to her longtime relationship with a prominent colleague, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In the process, McEwen belatedly resurrects the reputation of Anita Hill by offering proof that the disgraced law professor was telling the truth 20 years ago when she testified against Thomas during his controversial confirmation hearings.  

 

Kam Williams: Hello, Your Honor, thanks for the interview. How are you?

Lillian McEwen: Hi Kam. I'm good.

KW: How'd you like my review of the book?

LE: [Chuckles] My PR guy loved it, and we both thank you.

KW: That sounds like you had some issues with it, but I have so many questions from readers, I better get right to them rather than pursue that line of questioning. Harriet Pakula Teweles asks: 'What's it all about Lillie?' Why now? Why not then, when Dr. Hill needed your support in her testimony against Clarence Thomas?

LE: I was counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Joe Biden, so I knew pretty much what the process was. What happens when people make offers to testify, the committee's role is to advise and consent as part of its Constitutional mandate. Typically, these letters are anonymous, and they're taken to the nominee who then has a choice of withdrawing their name from nomination or otherwise risk having that person testify against you at the hearing. Quite frankly, the reason that I didn't come forward at the time that Clarence's name was before the committee was because I knew from my experience on Capitol Hill that it really wouldn't make any difference. What happens is that the party in power will nominate whomever they want. In Clarence's case, he was nominated, of course, as a result of our having a Republican president. And neither Joe Biden nor any of the other Democratic senators wanted to risk being labeled as racist or thought of as being against a black nominee after Clarence played the race card.      

KW: That leads me to a question from Kola Boof: Why didn't you go to the media back then when the case was such a media circus? We all know that the Democrat males were just as sexist and fearful as the Republicans of sexual harassment being taken seriously. So, they all, as men, took Clarence's side. Lillian, your story would have gotten Clarence dismissed because having a person of your stature speak up at that time in the heat of it would have been too damaging.

LE: Because it wouldn't have made any difference whether I went to the media or not. But most importantly, Clarence and I had a conversation before he was nominated in which he informed me that it was his desire that I always say "No comment!" and not give any interviews at all. I regarded that wish as something I pretty much owed him as a friend and as someone who cared about him. My hope was that he would have a conscience and be compassionate while on the bench of the Supreme Court.

KW: With legal minds who might have approached Thurgood Marshall's greatness, why did you stand by and let someone be appointed who will be remembered for less rather than more of what Justice Marshall represented in this court's history.

LE: First of all, I had no power to prevent him from being appointed. I didn't have a vote. And secondly, I hoped that he would transform himself back into a person who did the right thing. Besides, there were many other witnesses available to the Senate Judiciary Committee. But I did write a note to Senator Biden around the time of the hearing him reminding him that I had had a close relationship with Clarence Thomas. I would have appeared, had I been subpoenaed to testify.

KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: Why didn't you approach Anita Hill to support her allegations in her time of need? Were you afraid of possible repercussions respecting your career?

LE: There were other individuals who had worked with Clarence who were willing to testify at the confirmation hearings. So, I wasn't the only one who could have corroborated Anita Hill's testimony. Furthermore, long before the nomination, I was utterly convinced that she and Clarence had had a sexual relationship. 

KW: Why so?

LE: There came a time during his tenure as Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that he began to complain vociferously about the behavior of Anita Hill at the office. He would whine about it every day. He even asked me on several occasions to come to the office to wait for him, because "Anita Hill has to see that I have another woman in my life now. It has to be made plain to her that we don't have the same type of relationship we once had." 

KW: So, do you think Anita testified out of bitterness as a woman scorned?  

LE: I think it's more complicated than that. I think Anita Hill never imagined that she would be the only person testifying against the man who had given her her job, who had been at her beck and call, and who had made sure that she was a successful attorney.  

KW: Have you had any contact with her?

LE: No, other than being introduced to her when Clarence became Chairman of the EEOC, and the times when I went sat around the office to send her a message for him. [Chuckles]

KW: Have you considered leaving a message on her answering machine like Clarence's wife, Ginny, did last fall?

LE: That's never occurred to me.

KW: Bernadette asks: do you respect his intellect? 

LE: When I left him, Clarence said he was envious and resentful of my ability to read for pleasure. It had been obvious to me that he had no real intellectual curiosity whatsoever and that the material he had to handle at the EEOC was fairly difficult for him to handle. At that time, he was making speeches all over the country in support of the Republican agenda, and he always employed a speechwriter to help him. It was very difficult for him to process, focus on or to grasp complex ideas. This was a man who prided himself on his perceiving the world in very stark terms.     

KW: In your opinion, is he arrogant or racist? 

LE: As you quoted rather courageously in your review, one of his favorite sayings ("[N-words] and flies, I do despise. The more I see [N-words], the more I like flies.") is a chant that racist White people used to say while sitting on their porches to frighten and intimidate Black people passing by on the sidewalk. I regard that as self-hating, and a legacy of slavery.

KW: Children's book author Irene Smalls asks: Did you ever consider Clarence Thomas as a future husband and father of your children?

LE: No, he had already had a vasectomy, and I had no interest in getting remarried or having more children.

KW: Irene also asks: Do you think that Clarence Thomas' choice of a White wife reflects his politics or his looking upon Black women as lesser than?

LE: Something I learned while socializing with Clarence was that Black Republican men generally had White wives, almost as if it was a litmus test, a way of assuring White men that they could be counted on to be consistent politically.  

KW: Irene's final question is: Do you have any regrets over being silent for so long?

LE: I always felt like I was on a precipice, as if I would be punished if I said anything negative about him. I was also in great fear of how people would view me in respect to hurting him or how they might judge my behavior as immoral. I was in fear because I felt that if I tarnished his image, I would be hurt in return.  

KW: Lee Bailey asks: Just how freaky-deaky did you and Clarence get? What was the freakiest thing he wanted to do to you?

LE: Regarding the first question -- I never thought of anything we did as freaky. "D.C. Unmasked and Undressed" does, however, describe in great detail sexual encounters with four different women who shared our bed. Clarence contributed two and I contributed two. The book also describes in detail the "see and be-seen" atmosphere at Plato's Retreat. This was my lifestyle and this was my world before I met him. I enthusiastically introduced him to these adventures. One of the reasons I eventually left him was my assumption that Clarence's new false religiosity and courtship of the new Evangelical Christian wing of the Republican Party would eliminate sexual activity or adventures in the future. I was not insatiable, but I knew what I wanted from the relationship. As far as the freakiest thing he ever wanted to do to me --I never regarded any request Clarence made or any activity we engaged in as freaky, but I do not recall saying no to any suggestion he made, either. Sex was just good, clean fun and an important part of my life before and after Clarence, as I attempt to make clear throughout my memoir.

KW: Yale Grad Tommy Russell: Ms. McEwen. First, I want to say thank you! Kudos to you for being such a brave woman as to share so much of your sexual history. We still live in a very Puritanical society when it comes to being open and honest about our sexual lives. We have great difficulty sharing our experiences, desires, and what we consider "normative" with others, even with family/friends let alone strangers. My first question: What do you think the reason was for Sen. Biden, now Vice President, to disallow your voice in the Senate confirmation hearings? Did he feel pressure from Republicans in the administration and Congress not to keep up the pressure? Or was it deeper and darker?

LE: I wasn't prevented from testifying at all. I simply reminded Joe Biden of the fact that Clarence and I had been close for several years, and that members of his staff knew him.

KW: Tommy's second question is: Where do we go from here? Do you think this will open up a larger dialogue about sexual mores in our society or do you think your book and its message of openness and honesty will be panned as liberal, wackado-nonsense as I imagine it may?

LE: [LOL] It is my hope that my memoir might help some people imagine that their lives could be different. Perhaps, by honestly relating a truthful narrative, my book will illustrate a possible way of going through the world that is not harmful and which is consistent and compatible with being sane, normal and successful. You may not like this life or think there's something wrong with it, but you cannot deny the fact that I have lived this life. If the book explodes some myths, then it is valuable as a narrative and as a way of looking at the world that you might never have thought possible.

 

KW: Larry Greenberg asks: When you talk about sharing porno and multiple sex partners with Clarence Thomas, are these things inherently wrong or is it just the hypocrisy that makes them an issue?

LE: The fact that I wasn't parented and went to a Catholic school resulted in my realizing that there is huge difference between right and wrong. Also, for some reason, I don't share the same inhibitions of people who have been parented. I've gone through life just doing what seems natural to me. I've tried really, really hard to take pleasure in something that's fairly simple whenever I can. I've never attached moralistic terms to sexual acts or preferences, unless they harmed someone. [Laughs] It never occurred to me when I wrote the book that my sex life was unusual at all. To the degree that you can eliminate stifling masks, you'll lead a more honest life, you'll be more content in life, and it'll be easier for you to go through life. And conversely, the more you firmly affix that mask to your face and convolute your own values to conform, the more confused and crazier you'll get. [LOL]

 

KW: Peter Keough: Ask her what's really going on under that robe. And why she thinks Justice Thomas has hardly said one word since being on the court.

LE: Five years ago, Clarence stopped asking questions during oral arguments, and has taken to criticizing his fellow justices for wasting time grandstanding.  I believe that another reason he's quiet is because he's had to overcome his Geechee roots. He often lapses back into Geechee way of pronouncing words and an ungrammatical sentence structure, which is embarrassing to him. He is fundamentally a very shy person, and is very sensitive about any criticism about his manner of speaking. And it would be a great source of embarrassment if leveled in the context of a Supreme Court argument.

 

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you want the readers to take away from your book?

LE: An appreciation for truth-telling. I tried to communicate that it's really important for us to go through life guiding our behavior and standards based not only on knowledge and reason but on the pleasures and serendipity of life. I don't know whether I've achieved that, but I gave it my best shot. 

 

KW: Will Cooper asks: What's the real reason you wait so long to come out with these accusations? Are you having financial problems and so you're suddenly making these accusations because you need the money?

LE: I didn't write the book to make money, but because I needed to evaluate what was going with my own self with respect to the world. When I finished writing it, a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. This was before I got a PR person, an agent or a publisher. It was important to me to get my own life down on paper in my own words. I never thought about how much money I could make from it, because I retired in 2007 and have an income for the rest of my life, thanks to your tax dollars. [Chuckles]

KW: Will continues: Why didn't any of these revelations come out over the past 20+ years, given the amount of digging and scrutiny that Clarence Thomas has received? Why didn't any other people who saw you at these places ever said anything during Thomas' hearings or over the past 20 years?

LE: There are dozens of people who are aware of the events that are described in my book. And I actually expected some of them to come forward at any minute and to reveal these matters, and it might happen next week.

KW: Will persists with: How could you be the only one holding this secret if much of it was done in somewhat public places? Does this mean there are hundreds of other people out there who know the same information but are just remaining silent?

LE: It's certainly something that the participants knew about. I'm not talking about 1-on-1 experiences. [Laughs]

KW: Was Clarence discreet when you two went to a public sex palace like Plato's Retreat?

LE: He would put his real name on the list.

KW: Was he the head of the EEOC at the time?

LE: For much of it, yes. [LOL]

KW: When you went to Plato's Retreat, was that your idea or his?

LE: I pulled him there. I had already lived my life that way well before I met him, and had been involved in threesomes for several years. Without realizing it, I had a totally different view from the majority of Americans of what human sexuality should look like.  

KW: Aren't you afraid of any retaliation from Thomas in the way of a defamation of character or libel lawsuit?

LE: The best defense against any accusation like that is truth. The general rule is, as long as you're telling the truth, they're wasting a lot of time and energy coming after you. And there's nothing in my memoir that is not true.

KW: Do you think the Ginny Thomas phone call to Anita Hill last fall is what interested publishers in your book?

LE: Yes, that's correct. That call by Ginny Thomas was the catalyst. Otherwise, it might have just stayed in the closet for some time longer. I wasn't yet comfortable approaching publishers myself, because of the nature of the book.

KW: Do you think your memoir will be made into a movie?

LE: I think that would be great. I wouldn't say "No."

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

LE: No.

KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?

LE: I had always been terrified that somebody would talk to the press or find some film footage of me from Plato's Retreat. But now that the book is out, I have a completely different view of my relationship with Clarence. It's liberating and almost funny to see people's reactions. It's almost like a different chapter of my life has been opened for me. I'm not really accustomed to it yet, but there isn't any part of it that says "Be scared!" 

KW: Did you have sex with other people besides Clarence at Plato's?

LE: I'm pretty sure that's true. But he liked to watch and to be watched.

KW: In the book, you said that he was so popular at the porn shop that the clerks would call to let him know when they got a new shipment of his favorite stuff. What did he have a taste for?

LE: His preferences were for large penises, ejaculation scenes with men erupting like volcanoes, and also huge breasts on obese women. It bored me to tears, personally, but it was extremely important to him.

KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?

LE: Happiness is overrated. I would call myself content at this point in my life.

KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?

LE: [LOL] I fell on the floor hearing Joan Rivers tell this joke: "My vagina is like Newark, New Jersey. Men know where it's located, but they don't want to visit."

KW: Why did you find it so funny?. Did it resonate with you in some way?

LE: [Chuckles] Yeah, it really did.

KW: But I would guess that a lot of friends and acquaintances might like to relate to you in a new way after reading all the lurid revelations in this book.

LE: No, they want to stay as far away from me as possible. I imagine I'm going to lose a lot of friends over the book. I already have.

KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

LE: Watching black and white movies on TCM, the Turner Classic Movie Channel, at night.

KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?

LE: I'm reading two at once, "On Human Nature" by Edward O. Wilson [http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674016386/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20] and "Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" by Chelsea Handler.

[http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1416596364/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20

KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What have you been listening to lately? 

LE: I like Mozart, Frank Sinatra, and some of the rap artists.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

LE: I love crispy duck.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

LE: Prada.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

LE: I'm always surprised, because the older I get, the more I look like my mother. But I'm always hoping that it's somebody else, because I've always wanted to be a brown or dark-skinned black woman, to match what I feel like inside.  

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

LE: It certainly would be to remove evil from the world.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

LE: Playing in the back yard at about two or three years-old, being pushed by my brothers in a red wagon.

KW: The Flex Alexander question: How do you get through the tough times?

LE: By reading books and listening to music to remind myself that the future is going to be very different from what is happening right then.

KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who's at the top of your hero list?

LE: Martin Luther King, a man who spoke for all of humanity.

KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

LE: My two parents who were not only physically abusive, but also verbally, mentally and emotionally abusive. I almost did not survive my childhood, and two of my siblings were destroyed right in front of my eyes by them.

KW: The Dr. Cornel West question: What price are you willing to pay for a cause that is bigger than your own self interest?

LE: I would give my life.

KW: The Taboo question: What's the best thing about being a parent?

LE: Learning what love is like. I had no clue what it truly meant to love another human being until my daughter was born.

KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

LE: Read, so that you can figure out how to reason your way out of situations. Secondly, don't compromise. Don't do something for a living that you know you're not suited for, that's not going to bring you happiness or challenge you. And don't stay in a relationship that's not allowing you to be the way you want to be.

KW: The Zane Question: Do you have any regrets?

LE: Regret is the most futile of human emotions. I really mean that.

KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?

LE: As a person who told the truth about a life that was unusual and important in certain respects. And as a person who showed that Clarence should have withdrawn his name from the nomination process. Of course, he wouldn't have been able to reward his friends and punish his enemies as he is now able to do sitting on the Supreme Court bench.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Your Honor, and best of luck with the book.

LE: Thank you, Kam, my pleasure. e

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