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April 2010


In the past few days since the death of Dr. Dorothy I Height, I have been spending time thinking about her, and researching more about Wednesdays In Mississippi the organization Dr. Height founded in 1963 with my mother, Polly Cowan, . Today I found this fascinating article from 2002 by Lottie Joiner from the The Crisis Magazine. All quotes are from the article:

"By 1964 Black people had been fighting for civil rights for more than a decade, but white resistance remained strong. From the sit-ins in North Carolina to boycotts in Birmingham, demonstrations in Little Rock and freedom rides from Washington to Louisiana, civil rights battles were being fought all over the South. Yet hardly a dent had been made against segregation in Mississippi, a state distinguished by its often brutal stands against civil rights. The first White Citizens Council was established in the state in 1954. Lynchings were common. So were church bombings and cross burnings. Blacks who tried to register to vote were beaten, harassed or killed by local law enforcement officers, many of whom were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Civil rights sympathizers mysteriously disappeared, their remains found years, sometimes decades, later in rivers, fields or under the hard red clay that supported the state's cotton economy.  "

Down In The Delta, from The New Crisis, by Lottie Joiner 2002. I apologize for the ad links but I wanted to show you the original article with photos and I don't have a hard copy to scan. The scroll links are active, so click the arrows and you can look at it all. Please note the beautiful photographs by Michele Stapleton and Dennis Dennis Marsico.

"It was in this climate that women such as Ruth Batson decided to travel to Mississippi in 1964. The call came in March. Leaders of five national women's organizations - the National Council of Negro Women, the National Women's Committee for Civil Rights, the National Council of Catholic Women, the National Council of Jewish Women and United Church Women - convened a three-day summit in Atlanta to address the treatment of women and girls who were jailed for their civil rights activities. Black and white women came from Atlanta and Albany, Ga.; Montgomery and Selma, Ala.; Charleston, S.C.; Jackson, Miss.; and Danville, Va.

The women heard firsthand accounts of the brutality inflicted on civil rights workers. The sessions were led by NCNW's Dorothy Height, who encouraged the women to organize locally and work on ways they could help in their own communities.

For many who attended, it was an education in just how harshly and unjustly the South was treating its Black citizens. Before the session ended, Claire Harvey, the spokeswoman for the Jackson, Miss., group, stood and issued this plea:

"If northern women could visit us regularly during the summer, to act as a quieting influence by going into areas that are racially tense, to try to build bridges of communication between us, between our Black and white communities - to be a ministry of presence among us - it would be of tremendous help to us."

Dr. Dorothy I Height and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1960

"Every detail of the project was meticulously planned, including travel and safety precautions, but also how Black and white participants would interact with each other and even how they would dress.

For the participants, many of whom had never crossed the Mason-Dixon line, it was a lesson in the southern way of life. For example, the Black and white participants could not be seen speaking to each other publicly and could not lodge together. The women were told of police traps, such as handmade stop signs or extremely slow speed limits. So they wouldn't stand out, they were advised to wear white gloves like most women of the South did at the time.

" 'We helped to get them to understand the importance of living within the pattern," Height says. "There was no way we could bring about change if we went down there and tried to upset it.' "

    packing list for wednesdays in mississippi 1963

Original packing list for Wednesdays Ladies. Wednesdays in Mississippi, from Wednesdays In Mississippi digital history website

"We got the news the night before we went to Mississippi that [the three young men] were missing," remembers (Susie) Goodwillie. "I realized then that this was really serious. I was committed to go more than ever." The world would realize how serious the situation was when the bodies of the three men were discovered more than a month later.

In Jackson, Goodwillie, joined by her college roommate, who had just completed her first year of law school, was housed in the elegant Magnolia Towers. She says their rent check from NCNW had to be laundered several times before it reached the hands of their landlords, prominent members of the White Citizens Council.

If people asked, the young women told them that they were in town working on a cookbook featuring southern recipes. Like nice southern ladies, they wore white gloves and attended church three times on Sundays. "We had to be impeccable," says Goodwillie. "If we were going to get through to white women we had to be totally acceptable to white Mississippi upper-class standards."

(Doris) Wilson lived with a Jackson State University librarian and her family until she found other housing in the Black community. She eventually stayed with a professor whose mother was afraid to turn on the lights at night because she feared being shot.

"My God, it really was bad," recalls Wilson. "These were [financially] comfortable Black people, but that was the kind of tension they lived in." Their housing needs met, Goodwillie and Wilson faced another dilemma. They had to meet each week to arrange site visits and meetings with local women willing to host discussions about race relations. But the two couldn't be seen in communities outside of their race, much less get together."

Dr. Dorothy I. Height

"(Josie) Johnson and her team were held to strict secrecy, only immediate family and the U.S. attorney general's office could know about the trip. The women were also told that they could not travel as an integrated group beyond Chicago. "When we arrived at the airport [in Jackson] I think I expected to have the Klan there and whisk us off to who knows where," Johnson says.

But Johnson was met by members of her host family, who took the group to a community rally held in a local Baptist church. Johnson, who is 70 now and still living in Minneapolis, was surprised to see the perimeter of the church patrolled by Black men with shotguns.

The next day the team traveled as an integrated group to Vicksburg, Miss. They were well aware of the cars that were following them. "I remember the fear in driving from Jackson to Vicksburg," says Johnson. "It was such a beautiful state. You have this image of all the evil and ugliness that was taking place there, the abuse of people. To see that it was a lush, green, beautiful state was a surprise."

Team Debriefing. Scan of original document. WIMS digital website.

"At the freedom school, the group observed young workers sorting books. The facility was a converted barn with partitions separating classrooms. Johnson could see the difficult struggle. "When you think school, you think walls. This was just benches and, like an open-air facility," she says.

After the visit, the women drove through Vicksburg's Black section. "I can close my eyes and see it," Johnson says. "Many of the places where people lived were shotgun-looking houses. You could stand in the front door and look out the back. It didn't look like a thriving community. The people looked like they were living on the very margins of our society."

The group returned to Jackson that evening and attended a hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at Tougaloo College in Jackson. The organization was gathering data on the condition of the people who were working on the voter registration effort. The women heard stories of people being jailed, fired from their jobs, placed on detention in school and "just all kinds of things that seemed incredibly unreal."

The next day, they learned that the freedom school they had visited had been bombed later that evening"

Scan of original document from Wednesdays In Mississippi
. WIMS website

I have quoted from this article with permission of the author Lottie Joiner, who is a senior editor at The Crisis Magazine  . When I mentioned this article to Marlene McCurtis, one of the documentary filmmakers who are making the Wednesdays In Mississippi documentary  she told me that this was the article that actually gave her the idea for the film. Figures. 

I urge you to read the entire article which is in a very easy to read  here at Bnet

   Mary McCloud Bethune, Dorothy Height, Polly Cowan National Archives for Black Women's History at the Bethune Council House
Mary McCloud Bethune, Dorothy Height, Polly Cowan. National Archives for Black Women's History at the Bethune Council House


 Dr. Dorothy I Height, Polly Cowan, Dorothy I Height dies April 20, 2010, Wednesdays In Mississippi, women in civil rights, civil rights as women's work

Dr. Dorothy I Height and Polly Cowan, Co- Founders of Wednesdays In Mississippi

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height died early this morning at age 98. One of the great leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, her activism, passion, brilliance and determination changed the lives of millions. She was also my my mother's great friend and colleague. Our family loved Dr. Height, and will miss her deeply.

I direct you to my sister, Holly Shulman's, excellent website documenting the Civil Rights Organization, Wednesdays In Mississippi, founded by Dr. Height and our mother, Polly Spiegel Cowan 


 Dr. Dorothy I Height, Polly Cowan, Wednesdays In Mississippi, women in the civil rights movement, Hope Resolve Empathy Understanding

From the Wednesdays In Mississippi Website. Click image to link.

Wednesdays In Mississippi mostly worked in secret in order to protect the women who participated, whose lives could be in danger from the mission.

 Dorothy Height, Wednesdays In Mississippi, Polly Cowan, Secret Project in Mississippi, interracial meetings of women 1964, NY Herald Tribune 1964
"Secret Project in Mississippi- Interracial meeting of Women" NY York Herald Tribune, 1964. From The Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. Click image to link.


New York Herald Tribune, Aug. 30, 1964  By Dick Schaap, City Editor:

They met secretly, these few white women and Negro women of Jackson Miss., in a business office on a border  street separating Negro and white residential sections, because the white women were afraid to bring Negros into their home and afraid, too, to go to Negro Homes. Their fear, of course, was of retaliation from the white community. Their interracial meetings were inspired by a project called Wednesdays in Mississippi, a secret project revealed only yesterday, that over the past two months quietly brought into Mississippi 48 Northern women, white and Negro, many of them socially prominent. The mood of these meetings, encouraged by the Northern visitors to help 'build a bridge' between Jackson Negro and white women, was expressed best, perhaps, in the frank remarks of one local white woman who attended. " My husband would kill me if he knew I were here." she said. "But he's a wonderful guy."" These (white) women are living through a frightening, schizophrenic experience," Dr. Hanna A. Levin, of Maplewood, NY, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University, said yesterday.

Mrs Levin was the leader of Team Seven, the last of the Northern teams- drawing women from New York, New Jersey, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Paul - to make an excursion to Mississippi. Six of the teams had seven members; one team had six members: every team had at least two Negros on it.

The Northern visitors included Mrs. Robert B. Meyner, wife of the former governor of New Jersey; Mrs. Jerome B. Weisner, wife of the Dean Of Science at Massachusetts Instititute Of Technology; Mrs. August Hecksher, wife of the director of the Twentieth Century Fund, Inc., Mrs. Robert S. Benjamin, wife of the chairman of the board of United Artists Corp.; Mrs. Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; Mrs. Edward L. Ryerson jr., daughter -in- law of the former chairmn of the board of Inland Steel Co, and the overall project coordinator, Mrs. Louis G. Cowan, wife of the director of the Communications Research Center at Brandeis University.


Each team flew into Mississippi on a Tuesday - the last group landed on Aug. 18- spent Tuesday night in Jackson, spend Wednesday visiting Freedom Schools and other facilities set up by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in such towns as Meridan, Hattiesburg, Ruleville, Canton and Vicksburg, went back to Jackson Wednesday night and returned home on Thursday.

The Negro members of the teams always stayed in private Negro homes. The white members of the fist five teams stayed in motels. Then, as the group slowly acquired contacts in the white community, the white members of the last two teams found lodging in private white homes. Wednesdays In Mississippi employed a paid staff of three women - two white and one Negro - who spent the entire two months in Mississippi.

Many of the visitors paid their own way to Mississippi but a majority were subsidized, at least in part, by such organizations as The National Council Of Negro Women, The YWCA, The National Council Of Jewish Women, The National Council of Catholic Women, The League Of Women Voters and several church groups.

Each woman was briefed by Mrs. Cowan before she left, given background reading material - including the speech by Mississippi Prof. James Silvester (Silver) which lead to his book, "Mississippi: The Closed Society" and a pamphlet called "Behind The Cotton Curtain" - then was debriefed by Mrs. Cowan when she returned. The debriefings were tape recorded.

From the Wednesdays In Mississippi Film Project:

"However, it was on Thursdays that the quiet revolution took root. This was when the “Wednesdays Women” put on their white gloves and pearls and secretly met with Black and White Mississippi women. In living rooms over tea and cookies the Southern women openly discussed their fears and suspicions about the civil rights movement.  Many, for the first time, voiced their support for change. At that time in Mississippi, mixing with outsiders had dire consequences.  Yet the women came,  they listened  and their hearts and minds began to open.  Their clandestine meetings became the catalyst for great change."

 Dr. Dorothy Height, fashion icon
Dr. Dorothy I. Height was also a fashion icon. She could really wear a hat!  Photo by H. Darr Beiser, USA Today, 2008

  President Obama, Dorothy I.Height, photo Pete Souza,
January 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)  President Obama and Dr, Dorothy I Height

  President Obama crying at Dorothy Height funeral, April 29, 2010
At Dr. Dorothy I Height's funeral, April 29, 2010, President Obama cries. I love this photo and the fact that Obama was so moved by such a great woman.

For a comprehensive look at WIMS please go to: Wednesdays In Missisippi website

and The WIMS Film Project

And this, From Laura Flanders, GritTV

More GRITtv


More from the Cowan photo vaults:


Mannequin silhouette, adel rootstein mannequin, Photo © Liza Cowan , retail window design
Mannequin Silhouette. Photo ©Liza Cowan 2009

In the summer I put white curtains behind the show window at Pine Street Art Works. The bright west light throws everything into silhouette in the afternoon. You have to be inside the gallery to get this view. Mannequins by Ralph Pucci International (left) and Adel Rootstein (right)


Mannequin silhouette, flower silhouette, adel rootstein mannequin, ralph pucci mannequin, retail window design, liza cowan photo
Two mannequins in silhouette. Liza Cowan photo 2009


 Rubin Museum Of Art, Earthly Immortals, Arhats in Tibetan painting, poster, woman with umbrella in front of tibetan poster, umbrella red stripe, red stripe as halo

Woman with umbrella in front of poster for Rubin Museum. Photo by Liza Cowan 2008

I just unearthed this photo from my files and thought I'd share it with you. I was on the street in New York City, watching people walk in the rain in front of this poster for the Rubin Museum. The poster was for the exhibit, Earthly Immortals, Arhats in Tibetan Painting (which I didn't see, alas.)

I waited for the right moment, and along came this woman whose umbrella seemed to match the red stripe around the Buddah. I think Picasso would have  called this a visual rhyme.


 aching back, Heal your kidneys, detail, woman with back pain, kidney pain, medicine 1912
Detail, illustration from DeWitt's 200 year calender circa 1912. PSAW ephemera collections

My back went into spasm last week and I spent the most of the week in  pain and immobile.  I'm doing much much better this week. Good enough to be at work part time and figure out which of my many ephemera items would have some nifty bad back illustrations.

 Heal your kidneys, dewitts 1912, kidneys 1912, pills 1912, cleanse poison from your system
Heal Your Kidneys, DeWitts pills 1912. PSAW ephemera collections

It's not my kidneys, or rheumatism, or any other ailment that DeWitt's  pills were supposed to cure. Goodness knows what was in those little pills. It was after the pure food and drug act of 1906, so they probably weren't filled with 90 proof alcohol.

 aching back, Rheumatism 1912, detail, woman with bad back, woman holding her back, medicine 1912
Detail, DeWitts 200 year calender, circa 1912, Rheumatism. PSAW ephemera collections.

I did feel just about like this last week. Ouch ouch ouch.

 Bottle deWitt's kidney and bladder pills bottle

 Rheumatism, 1912, medicine 1912, dewitts pills, woman with bad back, rheumatic pills 1912
Rheumatism, illustration, DeWitt's 200 year calendar circa 1912. PSAW ephemera collections

 Your health is your capitol, dewitt's pills, health 1912, bad back 1912
Your Health Is Your Capital, DeWitt's 200 Year Calender, circa 1912. PSAW ephemera collections

Yep, I agree. Your health is your capital. I'm feeling pretty good now, and mighty glad I can visit my CranioSacral practitioner, chug Advil, and skip the DeWitt's, even though they still make pain pills.

I hope you are feeling good.


Pine street art works, art gallery, carol golemboski, gallery layout
Pine Street Art Works, Main Gallery, Carol Golemboski Show, April 2010

If you want to give a shot at reading the things at Pine Street Art Works, I'll give you a hint: Spring Cleaning. Yes, after a long winter here in Burlington, with the gallery set up as a wonderfully crowded and fun store, I decided to go simple for Spring. Intern Par Excellence, Daniel Weinberg, and I spent a couple of days moving furniture and products, art and artifact. Grueling, but worth it. So welcome to Spring on Pine Street in Burlington Vermont's Arts District. Why the interest in reading objects? Carol Golemboski's amazing show here at the Gallery: Psychometry (the ability to divine the history of objects through physical contact.)

If Wishes Were Horses
Carol Golemboski, If Wishes Were Horses, toned silver gelatin print


Object Lesson in Heads
Carol Golemboski, Object Lesson. Toned  silver gelatin print.

Next big project: The street garden. Charlotte Albers of Paintbox Garden Design is planning something special, and I'll keep you posted.