Paul Cowan, An Orphan in History

Paul Cowan, An Orphan in History: One Man’s Search for His Roots (New York, 1989), 94-95.

She stayed in the civil-rights movement until she died – for more than a decade after I, like many of the self-proclaimed radicals I knew, had left it for other causes. She was the only white woman on the board of the National Council of Negro Women. She interested herself in detailed work, as she had when she produced “Conversation” – she helped establish a day care center in Mississippi; she worked for a drug rehabilitation program in New York; she spent almost as much time preparing questions for an oral history of Dorothy Height as my father did preparing his notes for his classes; she became the National Council of Negro Women’s delegate to the United Nations, where she campaigned constantly on behalf of blacks in southern Africa.

Of course she felt uneasy with the polarization that had beset the movement – with slogans like “black power,” which often communicated strong anti-white feelings; indeed, the polarization was more painful to her than to most people, since it affected her daily, as the only white official of a black organization. But her loyalty to black allies like Dorothy Height remained unshakable.

She spent a lot of time chatting about the movement, gossiping about the peop le she was working with, chuckling proudly over incongruous experiences like her induction into a sorority that had always been all black.

Once in a while she mentioned the fact that in Germany, during the tough times, many Christians, including liberals, had abandoned the Jews. In her stoic way, I think that she retained a deep commitment – almost a spiritual commitment – to the importance of bearing witness to the fact that that needn’t happen between blacks and whites in the United States.

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