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Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
Influence of Women's Clubs
BOND: Now, you said a moment ago how important organizations were to you. Did your mother introduce you to organizations, to organized work?
HEIGHT: Yes. Well, my father was a choirmaster and the superintendent of schools, but he was also in Knights of Pythias and a lot of other things. My mother was very active in the women's club movement. And I was active in little church groups, but then through the club movement she introduced me -- she was president of one of the clubs, and then I was the president of the Emma Jay Morris Circle, which was a junior group of that. So that's how I got active in club work. And it really was very helpful to me because it meant that I traveled with my mother when she went to clubs and went to organizational meetings, as well as the church gatherings all over.
BOND: Give us a picture of what the black women's organized club movement was like when you were a girl. What were the groups? What did they do?
HEIGHT: Well, these were groups that had as their theme, "Lifting as we climb." And those groups -- in fact, there were hundreds of them -- those groups I always said often furnished for our community what the white community had taken for granted. Everyone had a project of feeding the poor, feeding the hungry, home for homeless girls. You had to have a specific service in the community. And it also was that you had to see what you could do with those who needed it most. And I don't think anyone realizes the way in which those clubs -- they sold pies, they baked cakes, they sold chitlin dinners, or fried chicken, or whatever, but always the money was raised to help someone. They gave baskets at Thanksgiving and things of that sort, but over and above that, they sustained programs.
And years later, when I worked in Harlem and there were Florence Crittenton Homes all over the city for white girls, there was not a single bed for a black girl who happened to have been homeless or pregnant and who needed care outside of the Harlem Branch of the YWCA, and the White Rose Club. That was a little house that the club women managed and they kept it. They served girls, they helped girls. I think that was one part of our survival was the way in which those groups were organized. And I was deep in it.
BOND: Now, did this serve as an example for you of how people together accomplish more than one by themselves?
HEIGHT: Yes, working together you could do so much more. And that also that different people had different talents. And I used to note that sometimes people who, you know, may not be able to make a speech about it, but I always said they could bake a cake that would attract the people to come hear the speech. And there was that kind of way in which everybody had a sense that they had a contribution.
BOND: You know, people tell us, scholars tell us, that women -- not black women in particular, women, period -- are more cooperative, and men more competitive. Now, do you find that to be true?
HEIGHT: I find that women are -- women have what I call a kind of a humane sense. They're concerned about what's going on with children, with the sick, with the elderly, and the like, and they -- they have learned, and they will join hands. They might have their disagreements and whatnot, but when it comes down, I always say that women know how to get things done.