Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race

BOND: You talked a moment ago about this meeting of black women you had at the YWCA. What role has race consciousness played in your work, in your life?

HEIGHT: I grew up, as I said, in a small town, and I was not in -- you know, there was no place to talk about racial pride and all like that. But it has -- but from the moment I left home and I left for high school, and even then, in my high school, I began to get a sense of race pride. My mother gave me, for my elementary school graduation, Carter Woodson's book about the Negro history book, and I read that, and I began to feel, you know, a pride in who I was. But then, you see, it was reinforced in my school, because though we were very few, we graduated for three years straight first, second, and third. So there was no way of having anybody say we were inferior, no matter what -- no matter what we did. So that I had that from those early days.

But I think one of the values that I found at NYU, joining with other students, was that our focus was always on our heritage, on who we are, and I think that that sense of having deep roots that were important and significant was always helpful to me. And then, of course, I have to say, I've been in so many situations where I've been the only Negro, or the only woman, and I learned to always realize -- and people used to say, "You're a token." I realized that it's the token who sometimes, by the way you relate, you act, that you can pave the way for others.