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Civil Rights Leader Dorothy Height To Speak At U.Va.
Related “Wednesdays In Mississippi” Records Given To Library

October 1, 2003 -- Dorothy I. Height, 91, a Richmond native and a major figure in the U.S. civil rights movement, will speak at the University of Virginia on Friday, Oct. 10. The talk is being offered in connection with a gift to the U.Va. Library of historic documents linked to Height’s past.

“A Conversation with Dorothy I. Height” will be held at 4 p.m. in Alderman Library’s McGregor Room and will be followed by a reception. The event, co-sponsored by the University Library, the U.Va. Office of African American Affairs, the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies and the University’s Minority Rights Coalition, is free and open to the public.

Height also will sign copies of her recently published book, “Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir,” in the library’s Stettinius Gallery.

For her work, Height has earned the NAACP Springarn Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and many other awards. She advised First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on human and civil rights, President Eisenhower on desegregation and President Johnson on appointing African-American women to sub-cabinet posts.

Height’s visit coincides with the gift to the library of historic materials related to Wednesdays in Mississippi — an inter-racial, inter-faith group of women, that she co-founded to break down 1960s-era racial barriers.

The materials are being donated by Holly Cowan Shulman, research associate professor at U.Va. and daughter of Pauline Spiegel Cowan, who co-founded the Wednesdays in Mississippi Project of 1963-65 with Height. At the time, Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women and Cowan was a board member of the council and a member of the New York Citizens Committee for Children.

“These research materials strengthen the University Library’s civil rights collections and will give students and scholars insight into this unevenly documented but critical time in our nation’s history,” said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg.

The project called on women — white and black, Northern and Southern, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish — to build bridges of understanding across racial and class barriers and link the North and South in a national drive toward racial justice. Influential women were recruited from six northern cities to travel to Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964, spending their Wednesdays in Mississippi, to bear witness to the civil rights struggle there.

Shulman has donated her mother’s notebook, which provides first-person insight and commentary on the workings of the group, to the University Library.

In addition to Cowan’s notebook, the library has received a diary, kept on a roll of shelf paper by Susan Goodwillie Stedman, one of the first two staff members to sign on with Wednesdays in Mississippi for the Freedom Summer.

Shulman also is conducting a related oral history project, interviewing the 25 surviving members of Wednesdays in Mississippi. She will donate those tapes and transcripts to the library once the interviews are complete.

In recent years, the University Library has made an effort to acquire collections that document the history of African Americans in Virginia and the South. The library’s Special Collections Department has 478 collections noted in “Afro-American Sources in Virginia: A Guide to Manuscripts,” published in 1990 by the University Press of Virginia and compiled by Michael Plunkett , director of special collections.

Among the library’s notable collections are the papers of the Southern Elections Fund, which includes the professional and personal correspondence of U.Va. historian and civil rights leader Julian Bond; the Jackson Davis Collection, which contains nearly 6,000 photographs of African-American schools, teachers and students throughout the Southeast in the first half of the 20th century; and the papers of Alice Jackson Stuart, the first African American to apply to graduate school at U.Va.

Contact: Charlotte Crystal, (434) 924-6858

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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