Polly Cowan Volunteers for the NCNW

October 16, 2002: Dorothy Height Oral History Interview by Holly Shulman, pages 13-14

HS: So the question here is the genesis of all of this. How did all of this begin?
DH: Polly Cowan and I worked together-well, let’s go back. Polly became involved because of the fact that Steven Courier of Taconic Foundation had brought together Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young and Martin Luther King [Jr.] and A. Philip Randolph and James Farmer, and I brought in James Forman and me, and we became a group that was known as United Civil Rights Leadership. We didn’t start out that way; we started out looking at Steven’s question: Why isn’t American philanthropy more generous to the minority community, and what kind of policies do they have? But in the course of it all, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Mississippi, and we were all working together.Jane Lee Eddy, who was the executive of the Taconic Foundation, had offered an opportunity for us to have some volunteers to help. She offered it, but the men did not show much interest in it. In fact, they said, “No, we’ve got enough to do.”

But I pursued her, and I said, “Well, you know, I would be interested in any volunteer help,” and she gave me the résumés of four women who had indicated an interest in being helpful to the civil rights movement.

So I came back to the meeting, and I said, “I really like the one who wrote about the discussions of Campobello [phonetic],” I said, “because if I had been doing it, I would have covered the same points that she did.” And I said, “Having read that, I have a feeling that I was there for those discussions.”

And she said, “Well, that’s Polly Cowan.”

And I said, “I would like to see whether she would be willing to work with us.”

Well, Jane Lee Eddy called Polly, who was in the Vineyard. And then she called me back, and she said, “Jane Lee Eddy has called me, and I would indeed be very much interested in talking with you.”

I said, “Well, I’m headed for the Delta Convention at the Americana Hotel, and I’ll be tied up.”

She said, “But I’m coming in with my husband. He’s coming back to the city on some business, and I could come in with him tomorrow.”

I said, “Then come to the hotel, and we will get together.”

So she came, and we sat around the edges of the meeting and talked together. So I told her, “You know, we’re getting ready for the March on Washington, and what I would like to do is to have something following the march, but would bring women together.”

She said, “Well, I will go back.” She said, “Trude Lash is up in the Vineyard, and we’ll talk about it together, and,” she said, “we’ll see what we can do.”

Well, she went to work, and by the time the convention was over, we had a kind of basic plan that they would sit down and think of some things and I would, and then we would see what we could to bring people together, get a group of women who would meet following the march.

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