January 24, 2003:
Dorothy Height Oral History
Interview by Holly Shulman

HS: This is January 24th, 2003. I’m Holly Shulman, and I’m in Dr. Height’s office, interviewing her for this project on Wednesdays in Mississippi.Can you remember whether you felt, by the end of 1964, whether you had achieved the goals that you had set out to achieve as you planned it in the spring and early summer of ’64?
DH: I think we found that week after week, and I think the reason-well, you remember, after the Wednesdays in Mississippi, we had a meeting in Jackson at the Heidelberg Hotel. It was very clear that we had created a certain amount of expectation, that there was a kind of way in which people were expecting, they didn’t know what it was, but that something would happen. And when you deal with people like that, whose lives are characteristic, as I think the African American life is in this country, where you have so many rising expectations which are almost immediately offset with disappointments and with denials and the like, and that to bring people to a certain point and just leave them, did not seem to make sense.
HS: Do you remember at the end of that first summer what you felt? Did you feel pleased that you had accomplished something? What do you remember in late August, September? The trips are done. Do you remember what you felt about it?
DH: Well, I think that each week as we went along, each week we were more convinced that this was the right thing to do. We found that people were not only appreciative, in a sense, we had walked into the lives of people down there, black and white, and many people just felt that they had, you know, been a part of something that was so much bigger than-there was so much more to it than you could see, and that this was just a little something that they were doing, but it had far-reaching implications. And I think when many of them saw the children and went into the schools, you know, they were just so excited.I think it brought women of different backgrounds, both those who went in and those who were there, that it brought women of different backgrounds together. I think it also reinforced a commitment toward civil rights and to determination to work for civil rights. I think you will find that most of the women who came out never gave up, they never stopped. It was not a one-day stand. It was an experience they went into and they came out and they kept moving.I think also it was a source of strength and encouragement to those in Mississippi who were working for change. It’s hard, in a sense, to identify all of the elements, but you have to look at some of the things that happened, like the way in which women who had helped the Freedom Riders, but had done it quietly, came out and worked with us, you see; that they were willing to stand up for it. The way in which they were able to mobilize people against the television station that was so racist. The kind of thing that happened when we brought women out of Mississippi and they sat down and looked at it together. They realized how they could work together in their community.I also think that it had a lasting value in that the people there, the economy was making a change, the tenant farms were going out, the old cotton crop, tobacco, that was going out. There was no industry. And I think it gave people a hope that a new approach-and we were able to be helpful to them in helping some of them go to school, go to college. It’s like saying the women from the North went in to be of help, but I think they met each other as well as they met the Mississippi women. I would say they gave a kind of organized memory to the people who were left there, that somebody else, somewhere else, is still working for this. And when the legislation passed, when we got the Voting Rights of ’65, and things like that, they felt that they’d had a part in it.
HS: When you look back, going back to Wednesdays in Mississippi, can you give me a statement today, January 24th, 2003, how you feel about those projects?
DH: Well, I go by the testimony of people like Mrs. Hamer, who said to me, really, on her dying bed, she said, “You know, many groups have come into Mississippi, but the wonderful thing is that you stayed.” We had no money, but we worked very hard to carry it kind of on a shoestring, but we did.