Excerpts from Dorothy Height Oral History
Well, Polly [Cowan] knew of the work we were doing with some of the Head Start people down in Mississippi…She wrote a little note back to me, and she said – because by this time things were heating up in Mississippi. Bob Moses had decided that though he was a successful teacher, he would go down there and organize Freedom Schools. So she wrote and she said, ‘The word is out that all of those young people going from Ivy League colleges are communists.’* And she said, ‘My children are going, and I know there are other women who’d want to kind of be there to support their children and to let it be known that we are responsible people.’
She said, ‘I think if we could get the Cadillac crowd to do something I would call Wednesdays in Mississippi, that they would prepare and go in on Tuesday, that they would give some kind of a service.’ She said, ‘We don’t want them to go as sightseers. They have to be willing to do something that furthers the movement.’ And then we would somehow find a way to get together and then come out on Thursdays and go home, each one committed to doing something about civil rights back in their community, but also helping to expose the conditions that are affecting people in Mississippi…
Then we made a list of women that we thought of who would be very good. We began to think of women who had skills, who could do something. Augusta Baker, who was a librarian at the county library, we said, ‘She’s a good storyteller. We would have her.’ We thought of women like [Ellen] Terry, said if we had her, she’s a poet and she writes, and the like…
*In this context, “communist” was meant as a derogatory term. It was also sometimes used as a shorthand way to imply “Jewish” (due to the association of Jews and radicalism in the early 20th century).
The following excerpt comes from an oral history interview with WIMS founder Dorothy Height that was conducted by Polly Cowan’s daughter, Holly Cowan Shulman, for a project about Wednesdays in Mississippi. Excerpt from October 16, 2002 interview. (See Wednesdays in Mississippi: Civil Rights as Women's Work exhibit website.)
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Excerpts from Dorothy Height Oral History." (Viewed on December 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/node/11400/lightbox2>.