Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Women in the Civil Rights Movement

HEIGHT: One of the missing elements is the story of women in the civil rights movement, because even -- you know, people often talk about me working with these great men, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young and A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King and all -- that's true. That was the leadership strategy kind of group. But behind that, the marches were predominantly women and youth and children. And there were women -- so many things that the women were doing that had not come to notice, and that's why I think it's got to be very significant to have this story now lifted up so that people will be able to see it and hear it and know more about what women were doing.

BOND: You know, when you look at the Eyes on the Prize video at the mass meeting crowds, you see immediately that almost everybody in the pulpit is a man --

HEIGHT: That's right.

BOND: -- and almost everybody in the congregation is a woman.

HEIGHT: I often saw that. Maybe -- sometimes I've been to meetings for maybe Mrs. [Coretta Scott] King, Mrs. [Juanita] Abernathy, and I would be on the platform, but the rest of the audience was predominantly women and children.

BOND: Yes. This is --

HEIGHT: But, you know, when you talk about leadership, I think that that's the kind of -- you know -- role that women often take. I remember doing something in Brooklyn once, and a woman at the end of it said -- we'd been talking about volunteer leaders -- she said, "What is a volunteer leader?" Now, this woman was running a little home that she was taking care of children and so on, but she hadn't identified it as such. And I think the important thing is that as we identify so many different ways that people take leadership, I think it's more useful to us. Because otherwise, you think of elections and so on.

BOND: Yes, yes. And you think of heads of organizations --

HEIGHT: That's right.

BOND: -- and today many more women are, but women play a different role than men.

HEIGHT: And I think women also are advancing in public office and the like, but I like to think of leadership is -- one of the ways I like to think of it is, it's the capacity and a willingness to respond to what's needed.

BOND: Was it difficult for you to speak out against the nomination of President [George W.] Bush's nominee, the woman from California -- name escapes me [Janice Rogers Brown]. I remember the statement you made at the --

HEIGHT: It was difficult because I've worked all my life to advance African American women. But, you know, just as I would say you wouldn't just say, "My country right or wrong, it's still your country," I have to say she is still my sister, but she's wrong. And that therefore there would be no way that I could stand up and say she is the person who should be sitting in one of the most influential courts in the United States.