National Visionary Leadership Project Panel: Where are the Women Leaders of Civil Rights?
Oh I want a who's executive director of the National visionary leadership project and welcome to what is going to be a wonderfully lively half hour of discussion. Our topic for this show is where are the women leaders of the traditional civil rights organizations and are black women being welcomed as equals by black men at the tables of power. We have a wonderful studio audience here. They will be joining us for questions and answers a little later and we have an extraordinary group of panelists Welcome to you all. First of course is Dr. Dorothy Height president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women. Next to her is Nicole Merritt vice president of the Howard University student association. Next to Nicole is Natalie Lott away managing member of the law firm left which And Douglass next to her is Patricia Marshall
senior vice president of the Bank of America. And next to her is one courageous male. Hilary Shelton head of the D.C. chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People welcome to you all. And Dr. Height let me start with you because it's it's been almost 40 years since the March on Washington May 28 1963. You were the only woman sitting there with the so-called Big Six male civil rights leaders. If we had the march on Washington today you'd still pretty much you know many women sitting up there in that group. What is taking so long in terms of changing that scenario. Well since you mentioned the March on Washington I have to say to you I was a woman member of the United civil rights leadership but I was one of several women who were seated on the platform as Dr. Kay brought his memorable
address. I think that's one of the things that I'll never forget though it that's not me people don't even know is that there was no woman speaker on medication the only female voice was that of the bright gospel singer in my head at Jackson. And women not just die but not any of us. Mrs. Kate Mrs. Abernathy heads of all of our women's organizations had for weeks pleaded to have a woman speak here. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee held out and so they did have John Norris to speak but we were not able to get a woman speaker because in every instance we were told that the membership of the Urban League and I used to pay to get the churches the center hugs the unions all included women and I was the person who spoke for that spoke for them all. But in every instance it was a man and what we said we wanted a woman to speak for women. But that did not prevail.
But I could tell you a lot has happened since then and I don't think that would ever happen again. Do you I mean you're you're assured that you feel comfortable that at this stage this situation would not be repeated that women have an OS. And I think I do have to say in all fairness that even as we have seen the women's movement. Sort of emerge out of the civil rights movement with more vigor. It's are so over women black and white who never really understood that sexism was a stupid bet in our system as was racism and so we had those who were who felt that the racial issue was so great if we could do it with anything else. Forgetting that if you are both black and a woman you are affected by both races of the sexes. Nicole how do you feel about that. Do you feel that you are affected by
both racism and sexism or is it a different day for you. I definitely feel that I'm affected by both. I know that a lot of women in leadership whether it's in civil rights movements or other aspects of of life they're more behind the scenes and I think so much of that comes from the fact that there is no positive reinforcement when a woman tries to step you know step by step in front of the situation and take a leadership role. I we're socialized to think that when you when you're a leader we think we think of males. So I'm definitely affected by it however. My mother taught me in a very very young age that I'm a woman and I'm a black woman so I'll be as I have to fight twice as hard. They've been away now mentally what about you what do you think. I agree. One of the what's interesting to me is that I think that we see more and more women in the public sector in the nonprofit community
but not enough women in the business community and not enough women. As CEO knows this Presidents of large companies certainly when it comes to small businesses I think we've traditionally had women who run small businesses we often don't get the credit that we deserve. But it actually is something that I find troubling because as I look at where women are in the particular African-American Women Where we are in terms of when boards and corporations we are we are in terms of leading the large businesses. I don't see us but I know that we're kind of in the ranks. So hopefully over the next few years I'll actually see us as the leaders butchers are you encouraged or discouraged by the current situation. I think I'm encouraged by the current situation I think though that the the neighborhood a community of women leaders is definitely small but I'm encouraged when I
listen to young folks like Nicole that they are there's no fear that they believe that they can do all inhalable because they've had role models such as Dr. Dorothy Height. Nicole said her mother. Certainly my mother has been people that I know in the community have been role models. So you know I have I am encouraged because I don't see that here. But at the same time Nicole was very honest about saying that she you know unfortunately young women in her generation have also been raised to think when you think of a leader when you think of power you think of males. Right. I mean does that concern you. Two generations in a land we're still in that kind of situation. Yeah I think I mean it does concern me. I shouldn't make light of the fact that they are fearless but. It does concern me I think that young women have I mean we're not too far removed from slavery and the civil
rights movement so of course that that will play a role in our beliefs of what we can do. But I think that as we become a more global society and we see not only African-Americans but Hispanics other Latinos and other cultures being able to grab a piece of the pie certainly we want to continue to be a part of that and say if they can NOT being born here not being born in the system of oppression and perhaps being oppressed in their lands can come here and have a piece of the pie then certainly I'm encouraged by that thinking. What is is the next person to replace Kweisi in for me a woman. Quite possibly quite possibly the end of the piece had a long history of women in leadership from Mary White Overton in the beginning of the WCPN Ninety three years ago to Merle Evers Williams and even the vice chair of the board of directors now is a Roslyn Brock. So we've always seen women in high level leadership positions. But I
think you're right too often when it's time for the speaker at the March on Washington it is the male voice that carries the day. So we need to talk about that a little bit more but like the black church you always have the preacher the good something gives a speech but you can't even turn the lights on at the church unless the sis is there to do it. So we understand that those issues and whatnot very well. We look at our organization now we know that the majority of our branch presidents and we have 700 branches across the country are women. The majority of us day conference presidents are women. As I said before our Chief Operating Officer until very recently was also a woman the person writing to Kweisi Mfume and then really Evers Williams and Margaret Bush Wilson and so many other powerful women have always been at the end WCP making things work. But again is that face. I think in many ways I think as we see what's expected in the voice that comes from the black community perhaps that stereotype of the power that comes from a male offering the same message I'm not sure exactly what it is but I do very well see as soon as I listen to the women on this
panel and see how things work at the end the women are very much in charge. And it's good to see they're in charge as you said behind the scenes but the face is still a male face to it to talk to much of grace there. Absolutely yeah. Well actually if you really look at the whole civil rights footprint it was predominantly women youth and children so that if you went into any great mass meeting where Dr. King was speaking there'd be one or two of us on the platform. But if you looked out of the audience the audience was predominantly women and children and youth. And I think that that's something that has not been noted Dr. King at one time I remember in the Birmingham jail he said when the real history of the civil rights movement is written it will show and he spoke about this 72 year old woman who said that she was walking we had she said her feets might be tired but her soul was rested.
But he said those women were the backbone of the movement and I think that's. And yet the leadership was always seen but also the leadership that was given was predominantly male. And even I as I was often with them one of the young men once at the White House said to me we're going to change your seat because whenever the pictures are taken the men are all together and you're on the end and you get cut off. Well I'm just saying well that even if we were there we didn't show up because we were we're not that the press didn't appeal to it. But also you had to respect the leadership of the man. We had great men leading Natalie. You know like one of the things I think that what we've done as women is we've actually voluntarily stepped aside to allow the mail to be up front. Is that a good thing. I don't think so and I and I know I've often
I've done it in the past comes out with little things. I've been asked there have been times when I've been asked to speak and I'll say Oh no I don't I can do this and and a friend of mine recently said you know you need to stop thinking like that because one of the differences between in this is a quote the brothers and the sisters is that you say that to a brother and immediately he will say yes sure I can do it. Whereas I think that as women you know we're taught to be strong. We're taught to be bright. We're taught that we can do anything and we're taught that we really need to go out and do it. But at the same time I think part of women in this is that we sometimes should be shy you were demure and it's still that's a double message right it's a double message right. I don't think we figured it all out yet. Clearly we do we have it. McClary What do you think of it. Are you getting a double message or are your peers getting a double message about being a feminine being a woman and
being a powerful figure. I'm definitely I think a lot of us are sneaking in to find that balance and. Without that balance if you seem to be able to through a mistake or you seem to be you know doing just a little bit too much and you're not quite in your place where you're supposed to be and I just think it's important for all women all young women to define yourself and not let others define you and you need to think for yourself and think things for yourself that way you can make a clear conscious decision as to what you are able to do. Dr. Height How does it make you feel that you're sitting next to this young woman who has been socialized to still talk in terms of a woman's place or being hesitant about stepping forward to the head of the line or. Or Natalie talking about how you know she feels that she should. She hesitates before you know taking that that top spot I think what she's
really doing is saying to us what the society has done. This is this is this is a part of the American Society of the times and it's not just here to rob the world. And in the last decade of the United Nations dealing with women was the first time that there was this intensive effort to express the personhood of women that women are persons. And you remember when Mrs. Roosevelt added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She would not. Every man should have these rights. She said every person. And I think that sense of personhood is something it's a continuing struggle. But the great thing is that I think that our eyes are open today and I see more young women asserting themselves and realizing that they're not knocking. You don't have to knock somebody else down to be yourself. Well is this is this a non issue in a sense I mean are we comfortable with the relationship of black women
and black men as far as power is concerned. Are black women really really being welcomed by black men at the tables of power perhaps they they're sitting a little bit to the south side but they're sort of there so maybe that's OK. Is that what you're saying. I would have to say that as I worked with Roy Wilkinson Whitney honoring Dr. King and a Philip Randolph and James foreman that I they treated me as a peer. And I think that this this we have to say that I was not treated in a second class question. Often it was the press that sort of found its way. But you know hope pushes ahead of Dr. King. Think of it so that even though we stand back and sometimes the public moments when it's appropriate to recognize you don't have six leaders at this moment you have one or you have two or whatever but I think that we're at a point now where there has been enough change. And I even think that it would be even
easier for us if we saw even a change in all of our churches. We had this pattern and this patter to use in our churches and and women accepted women accept suppose big the greatest supporters of the churches and not being able to stand on the pulpit in many churches so that I think this kind of thing is a part of our lives that I'm glad to see young women like this who say I'm not aware of the fact that I'm a person and if I at this mall then step aside. Let my under something I'm aware that I'm doing it I'm not being pushed aside. I'm standing there and I'm I'm not respecting him and his leadership but I am standing there as a person too. And when he moves I'm ready to move whether he bows or not I can move in my direction. I think that sense of something we all have to you have to have and I agree. I was so present here young woman said this because I think for too long you know we've sort of taken back
the United Nations speculation that decade a hundred women said women need to be equal partners. Our study on the status of women in this country said women must be equal partners. And I think that's all we have to reform. We don't want to be ahead of them. We just want to be side Pat. But how do we change the patterns we've been talking about the socialization we've been talking about how do we really make that leap and get into the pulpit. Well the church I'm not certain how to answer the question about how do we take getting women into the pulpit. That's changing the whole night and I want more of that. But without certainly in the political arena I think what we know is that it takes money to run it takes a lot of energy and time to run for office I think in the political arena a lot of women say maybe I don't have time I don't have the time because I'm I'm so pressured I have you know family concerns I have work concerns you know
if you're in corporate America a lot of your female leaders have are now emerging from corporate America and our voice you know it's not necessarily more visible leadership but in Dr. Height's situation where it's a more visible emerging from the civil rights era those political leaders it's just very hard to try to balance balance at all and I think the Cole even mentioned a question about balance how do you balance it all. Well I was going to ask does it make any difference to you that that the head of the MWP is the face is a male and the face at the head of the National Urban League is a male and the face as most of the churches are males in the. On an O and S E L C and on and on. Does it matter to you that those faces are male. I think what matters to me most is that the work gets done number one and number two I guess what is the motivation behind them being the face.
If this is the person that can get the work done then by all means do what you have to do. If it's because we fill a bell a man has to represent the entire organization then I think there may be some issues there but as long as the work is going to Ben and the motivation is right I definitely don't see a problem with it at all. So you know I wouldn't let a model of a woman role model being the face that's not necessary because I don't think are you also have to say that while you've mentioned that I'm here because of my remark I would prefer remember what she did through the National Council for women but also what about Sojourner Truth. What about Harriet Tubman. Look back through our history and see the why women have played a great part at great Roe all through history so that we have set we have role models in our history that we can drop. And I think that's fair to me is very important. I don't know anyone who felt more that she was a person in America. Absolutely. And and created a tremendous legacy for
African-American women to become one of the things that that we have been trying to do with the National visionary leadership project is to collect the stories of extraordinary African-American African-American elders and make them available to the next generation and also train the next generation to go out into local communities and get the stories of elders in their own communities. And whenever we do an interview with with one of our elders one of the things that we ask them about is are there particular issues that have to do leadership issues that have to do with being a woman a black woman in particular. And we put together some of their comments and we wanted to let you hear what they had to say. Women out there now who have tremendous job and pretend to prospects. They're focused for the future is outstanding. When we look back into the early days of the movement 90 percent of everybody that
moved have revelled in front of the now he and 90 percent of the movement was not me and it was women close to me and went to work and it was all systems that was holding those rallies every day when the cameras got there turned into a main thing. Many women had the idea that hiring is a dirty word. Something wrong with this concern always said the important thing about Power is how you use it and I think that's true. Well a lot of people want power over people rather than power with them. You know it's a tall order but of power and authority are both hard to deal with. Now in the south it is really really difficult. And then what I have this covered is not just black women it's white women is the homeland yards when it comes to women. Southern Maine want there was and there are women on a nice little pills.
If anybody would ask me what would we do the greatest thing that stood in your way of trying to really move up politically. I would have to say Maine. Right main black main creator may That's right. Well that's a pretty straightforward OK well it's it's humorous but at the same time it's a reality that that we have to explore how do we how do we facilitate having women move more into power positions of power and feel more comfortable about it. And I return to our to our studio audience here for questions comments thoughts. I see a microphone in my hand right there. I'd like to ask the panel as a young black woman how should I get involved to be a leader and I have started passing on to my grandchildren and my granddaughters to be a leader in my darter.
So my question is What should we do to get involved. Anybody want to respond to that. I think if your grandchild has a mentor that's one way so that they can build some self-confidence and better thems prepare themselves to be leader to establish their leadership characteristics and then perhaps their organizations. The National Black Congress of women. There are other organizations around that can prepare the way for your grandchildren to meet. Then you have to define leadership. You know perhaps it's not you know it's political and one sense and another way maybe in the corporate world that they want to exhibit their leadership qualities or perhaps it's it's only their own business or in their community. So you have to first define the type of leader you want to be but a mentor helps. I'm always on cough medicine to telling young women how they should which is to say Webby and noble
ACP has available is something called X-O is the academic cultural technological and scientific Olympics. This is an opportunity for young people and young women as well of course to be actively engaged in things other than just athletics in preparation for leadership. So these are some of the programs to start young people at a young age through our local branches as you know the WCP has 700 branches we have about 700 youth and college units throughout the country including a branch of our chapter right here on Howard University's campus was a good place to come in with other young people focus in on strengthening your academic abilities and also understanding how they fit into the overall scheme of leadership in the civil rights movement of the business movement for that matter. And I. You need to get connected with other women who share your goals and your concerns. Where you hand sister just Sister discussed legs had worked together and that's what I would say I joined the National Council of Negro Women and be a part of an organization or that brings together many
organizations who are all concerned about it. Bands women and of giving women the opportunity and the really the challenge of seeing how we learn to work together and work together in a world that is both men and women. Just as it was I'm sorry that I thought that I would say that I see your children in your gallant grandchildren as well as yourself to find a purpose greater than you in then then then then once you do that you can connect with people who share the same ideas and I would also like to add that you should just be able if you can motivate someone else to attain a playing goal that that's what a leader is someone who can can motivate other people to attain a certain level goals. Great. I've see another person over here with a microphone to Dr. Height as well as all the other panelists what do you attribute your success as being a leader
in your background in you during your childhood it was something that you just fell into. What motivated you. What motivated you what was in your background that that created the success that you have had as a leader I have to say that my mother was very active in the colored women's club movement and so I grew up in the church. My parents took over their reactive in the church. I was very active in the church but then as a young person I was very active in the United Christian youth movement and I think that to me was a real experience and I just look now and wish that we had I had ways and I say how about what a difference it made in my life to be able to join with other young people who had a sense of their own faith and how they had to express it and live it. And then of
course it was a blessing for me that I came into the water of U.S.A. which deals with women's issues. And if that I had the opportunity at 1937 to discard Eleanor Roosevelt into a meeting this is but the most having and it was the National Council of Negro Women and shoot asked me my name and asked me to come back and I've been back ever since. But I have got there I've found what it means to what it meant to me to work not just with youth but with older women. And that's some. Think that I covet for young people I think we really long to be with those who are our own age but for me it was a blessing to have had an opportunity early in life to work in an organization that brought together women of different ages and different groups together and they're about what makes for successful lives is something in their background that gave them the idea that they would like to be a leader of a group or was it just something that they
volunteered for. How did it come about. Who wants to respond not only you haven't spoken yet when I could write it all for us it's always difficult to consider yourself as a leader. I manage my law firm and I recognize that people do look to me for leadership and that's really my job. But one of the things is that I'm well. Significant people would certainly be my mother my grandmothers and just my general family what my mothers and grandmothers very much did for me at an early age is created expectation and the expectation was that I would I would succeed I would do the right thing and I would work hard. And so I think it's really my my mother and my grandmothers who one who's my grandmother is still alive that when I speak to her she never understands why you can't succeed in doing something like Oh in
my particular situation I guess that my success came from actually being with the students here at Howard University. And sometimes when you just there share a general concern for the issues and you'll be elevated into a position of leadership and you may not have even expected it. And that's kind of what happened with me. I was just kind of keeping my ear to the ground as to you know what's going on. What are your issues what are you concerned about. And it was then Bazza you know to my attention Well I think that you should run for vice president. So the good earth for me it was kind of a generational exposure to community involvement. My both my family's were politically both my parents are were politically involved. And involved in the community not always doesn't always have to be political but my mother always said you don't have to sit around to be quiet you know get involved to make a difference. You
know I have a very chatty. You know I have strong opinions about things and probably comes from the youngest of five children. My oldest brother was 17 when I was born and was going on to college. So and that was there on the you know the Afro movement and the black power movement and I learned from hearing those conversations around the dinner table and having his friends come home from college with him. So it's kind of born into you born with you and bored out of you. And you just stay involved I'd love to be involved and it's just part of Hillary this is an equal opportunity show so good. Just realizing how much more needed to be done and there was something bigger than them individually each of us. I grew up in St. Louis Missouri during the busing movement for integration and I remember praying for rain because and if it rained that meant that the white kids window breaks our buses. We went to the white school on the south side of saying those that know it so much more needed to be done looking at the various movements of the struggles of people
and then there was a role for each of us if we would just dedicate ourselves to doing it. OK we may have time for another quick question any any other their way. Hello my name is brainy cage and currently I'm the president of the how to section of the National Council of Negro Women. Instead of Scuse me it is a pleasure to be here. The question that I have for the panel is as a key member of the Howard S. National Council to go women we often try to help motivate others in seeing change but I feel that we often see people are often complacent to their current surroundings. And do you feel that this is a reason why many women are not stepping into that key figure leadership role are we complacent or are we lacking the initial drive to just step forward and to make the change. Good question. Who wants to respond.
But other than just your story tell that the prophets of O Joshua gave these messages for her blood boil. And I think that when I think of myself when I was up there as a youngster work working for better conditions for a household employees it was kind of like you get your blood boil to get and I think part of it is that sometimes you need to face what the real issues are get out of the community see what's happening find out what's happening to people. I mean I think that's that to me said that you get to you have to get turned on to to what's right. My mother was trained as a nurse but when we moved from Richmond Virginia to a small town in Pennsylvania. There was no place in the state of Pennsylvania where she could be a nurse. My mother then had to become a household worker. And from a small child to see her three dollars and a half
and carfare for a day and see what she did with that. And to hear some of her story I think that. Got it into me in a different way friend of might have happened otherwise but I think that's for students today. There's enough happening in every part of the community get them out of there to get their blood boiling. OK yes to respond to you while we talk a lot about complacency. I'm an optimist and I really have to say that there's a whole group of people who I know women who aren't complacent. So I think that one of the things about a true woman is we believe in work. We work hard and we want to do better for ourselves and our family. And when I listened to Dr. Height story about your mother she didn't say OK I can't be a nurse and in this town she you know she took a job. She made it work for her family. She earned money. And we progress because that's how we've
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- Dr. Dorothy Height and others discuss the female involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and the place of women in contemporaneous society, with particular attention paid to their presence in leadership positions.
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Moderator: Poussaint, Renee
Panelist: Height, Dorothy
Panelist: Merrit, Nicole
Panelist: Ludaway, Natalie O.
Panelist: Warr-Marshall, Patricia
Panelist: Shelton, Hillary
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Format: Betacam: SP
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Identifier: HUT00000055001 (WHUT)
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- APA: National Visionary Leadership Project Panel: Where are the Women Leaders of Civil Rights? . Boston, MA: WHUT, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-293-4j09w0965b