Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Community

BOND: Now, you mentioned the Elks, which had this oratorical contest.

HEIGHT: It was an Elks contest.

BOND: And have mentioned other groups, the statewide young girls' organization, you were the president -- what were the other neighborhood networks, groups, that impacted you in high school and in college?

HEIGHT: Well, I was a joiner. My mother used to say to me, "Dorothy, if you join anything else, I'm going to take you out of them." I was in a debating society. I liked -- I was in -- my father, being a choirmaster, I was in a lot of musical groups. With two other girls we formed the trio. We sang all over to churches and everywhere. I was very active in sports -- in basketball, I played basketball.

BOND: Playing by boys' rules.

HEIGHT: We played boys' rules. I played girls' rules in high school, and in the evenings I played boys' rules. I loved boys' rules much better than girls' rules.

BOND: Yes, I think people don't know what's the difference, boys' rules and girls' rules? I know.

HEIGHT: Well, the girls' rules, the -- I was a center, and that meant that the court is marked off and you play only within that area. There was a kind of assumption in girls' rules that girls were so delicate they couldn't run the full course. So those who were guards had more territory -- or forwards -- than those who were in the -- as centers. And the advantage in boys' rules was that you could just play at equal -- I was still center, but I could play the whole court.

BOND: Yes. Girls couldn't take more than a couple of steps with the ball. Is that my memory?

HEIGHT: That's right. Yeah, that's right. It was very limiting, very gentle. And that's why I'm so glad now to see that we've broken away from all that.

BOND: Now, in addition to the church providing you with this opportunity to -- what did the church in your community, what did it mean to you? In addition to being an organization that you could perform in, that you could participate in, what did it mean?

HEIGHT: Well, you see, the church was really the basis in the community. It was through the church that I got the opportunity even to speak and so on. But it also meant that we joined with other churches, and I had the opportunity to work not only with my Emmanuel Baptist Church, but with Mount Olivet and with other churches, and we gathered together as -- in churches. As a matter of fact, my little trio, as we moved about and sang in different churches, we made -- we collected new friends and so we became active.