Meeting the Women
in Mississippi

October 16, 2002: Dorothy Height Oral History Interview by Holly Shulman, pages 15-16

DH: Well, Polly knew of the work we were doing with some of the Head Start people down in Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, she and Lou Cowan, her husband, went to England on some mission related to his publishing, and she went across the ocean. 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.So I got this card, and the way that we worked was, then she would think about it and I would think about it.So as soon as she got back, she called me, and I went over to her house. Lou Cowan was there, too, and we talked about how this could work. I said, “Well, it sounds like a great idea.” She said, “Well, we’ll just go to work on it.”


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. And then she talked about people like Adlai Stevenson’s sister, Mrs. Guyer, and the wife of the head of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology].

HS: Laya Weisner.
DH: Weisner. Laya Weisner. And then I thought of Ruth Batson, who was in Boston. And we just made a list of women who would have something to offer and who would be committed to the objectives.Well, as we kept going, we thought, “Well, this means you cannot just work yourself. We can’t just go down to Mississippi and say, ‘Hey, we’re here,'” that we had to have some way of having Mississippi organized, because our point was that we would meet with women in Mississippi, not that we would go in and do our thing and leave, but that we would go in, use our talents, but we would meet with women in Mississippi. And so that meant that we had to begin to think of what we could do.