BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dorothy Height, who got you to write a memoir?
DOROTHY HEIGHT, AUTHOR, "OPEN WIDE THE FREEDOM GATES: A MEMOIR": So many people for a long time have been after me to write my story. But really, it was Dr. Camille Cosby who finally sat me down with some people and said, This is something that you really should do. And then my good friend, Maya Angelou, who has such a distinguished career, when I talked to her about it, she said to me, Well -- she helped me to get a sense of telling my story, or telling the story that I`ve been a part of.
LAMB: What do you think`s the most important part of this story?
MONTEFIORE: It may well be the -- the role that I have -- and the opportunities that I have had as a woman, as a black person growing up in the United States, and as one who really, from my teenage days, have been a part of organizations and active -- had an active life. And I have been in touch with so many people, and really have had the opportunity to work on five continents and meet people of all kinds of backgrounds. And I think it may well be that it`s in sharing something of what so many people have given to me.
LAMB: Now, I know it`s not a secret because it`s in the book that you`re 91 years old.
MONTEFIORE: I am 91. I was 91 in March.
LAMB: Are you still active?
MONTEFIORE: Very active.
LAMB: What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I go to work every day. I am the chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women, and we initiated two or three years ago a process of transition and activity, so I`ve been a part of it. But I`m pretty active not only in the National Council of Negro Women, I`m chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and had an active role in Civil Rights.
LAMB: I want to ask you about some of the people that you mention in the book. When was the first time you met Martin Luther King?
MONTEFIORE: I first met Martin Luther King, he was 15 years old. He had come to Morehouse College at a time when to become a student at Morehouse College without graduating from high school -- because it was part of the gifted program. And I was in Atlanta for the YWCA of the United States, and I was director of training. And my white colleagues would stay in the hotel, but I couldn`t. And that gave me, really, the opportunity to stay with Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin Mayes (ph). He was the president of Morehouse, and he -- his wife invited me to come home early one evening to meet what she said was -- she said, I want you to meet Bennie`s (ph) favorite student. And it turned out to be Martin Luther King, Jr.
LAMB: What year would that have been?
MONTEFIORE: That was 1945.
LAMB: What do you remember about him at age 15?
MONTEFIORE: I remember -- I remember what an experience it was to sit and -- around dinner and then after dinner to just hear him think like any 15-year-old would do about what he wanted to do and what he wanted to be, whether he wanted to go into ministry or medicine or law. And you know, one of the things that struck me so mightily was I knew that I was in the presence of an unusual person, not only because he was gifted but because of, really, the nature of even the conversation. And then 10 years later, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, he was my leader, in 1955. It was a tremendous experience.
LAMB: Now, there`s a picture in your book -- we`re going to get it on camera here -- from a famous day in 1963.
LAMB: You got to look carefully, but you`re right there in the middle. Tell us what that picture`s all about.
MONTEFIORE: Well, that picture really represents several things. It was being a part of what I think was one of the greatest experiences in America, and not only for me but for everyone. But it also is a reminder to me that Martin Luther King, Jr., made a great speech, and that was an unusual occasion. But also, I was one of the women, along with Mrs. King and Mrs. Abernathy, seated on the platform, but you know, we tried very hard to get the opportunity to have a woman speak.
And Byron Reston (ph), who was the executive for the program, said, of course, there were women members of all of the organizations -- the unions, the churches, all of the different organizations which were represented. And so women were represented. It was hard to convince him, and we didn`t convince him, that while we were pleased to hear their male heads, but we wanted not me but any woman. And we had a whole long list of who could speak and have a voice of a woman.
But one of the things I`ll never forget is that the only voice we could hear of a woman that day was Mahalia Jackson singing the National Anthem. But the women nevertheless -- we took our seats, but I don`t think that would ever happen again.
LAMB: What -- what was the import -- talk to someone who`s 20 years old today and tell them the importance of 1963 and that march. What -- did anything change after that?
MONTEFIORE: There was a spirit. There was a sense of righteous indignation. There was a coming together as I have never seen. And I think that any young person at that time had to have a feel that they were witnessing a moment in America that was a America at its best. And it was a -- it was a kind of experience that brought together people of all races, all ages, male and female, all denominations. But there was a sense of unity. And I think that`s -- that was the heart of that day, and I think it was only as years have gone by that we see that we lost that drive. The climate has changed.
LAMB: How many white people were there?
MONTEFIORE: Oh, many. Many. The representation was just phenomenal.
LAMB: What was the purpose of the march?
MONTEFIORE: Well, it was really a march for jobs and freedom. You know, A. Philip Randolph (ph), who called the march, had called one during the Roosevelt administration, but President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802. And so his march -- that march never was realized.
But this time, A. Philip Randolph called for the march, and it was for jobs and freedom. The first call really helped to get the principle of fair employment practices moving, but this time, it was an effort to really speak up for jobs and for equality of opportunity.
LAMB: I want to read you a sentence -- couple sentences from your book. You say, "I`ve often thought about those words" -- and you were -- I don`t even remember who you were quoting, but you say, "As I look back at that period now"...
LAMB: ... "I can see that for all of the quiet work that was done, it took direct action through the marches and the Selmas and the more militant acts on the problem to bring about real changes."
LAMB: So are you saying here that without the militant actions, you wouldn`t have gotten the changes.
MONTEFIORE: No, because I thin for a long time, we put a lot of attention on dealing with prejudice and bigotry and building race relations, interracial groups. But it was -- we -- I think they came to the realization that we were not dealing so much with interpersonal relations. And I think this is where the Civil Rights movement moved us, to the realization that we had to change a whole system that was based in segregation. And it took giving evidence of the way in which segregation worked not only to the people who suffer but to the whole community, direct non-violent action to highlight, to really focus attention on the reality of segregation and discrimination.
LAMB: You grew up in what town?
MONTEFIORE: In a little town called Rankin (ph). It was a borough of Pittsburgh, a tiny little town, population of about 7,800 people, and largely an outpost of the farm born. It was an interesting little community.
LAMB: What were your parents doing at the time?
MONTEFIORE: My father was a building contractor. And while I had been born in Richmond, he was among those who in 1916 felt that there were better opportunities in northern communities, and so he chose and the family moved to Rankin. My mother was a nurse, and in fact, she was the head of nurses at a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, a black hospital. My father was very fortunate because he could find work. In fact, he employed people. He was self-employed all his life. But my mother, being a nurse, was not able to work in any hospital, nor was there a nurses registry that would take a Negro at that time.
LAMB: You say in your book, early on, that you were not aware of prejudice until you were about 12 years old.
MONTEFIORE: Well, I`d had a little experience with it in that one of my little neighbors, who I loved very much, told me one day that she couldn`t hold hands and go up the hill or down the hill with me as we went to school, as we had always done, because she found that I was a "nigger." So that was one of -- that was my first shock. But I think -- I lived also with the realization of my mother`s feelings about not being able to get the kind of job that she wanted.
LAMB: But you -- when you got into Girl Scouts and...
MONTEFIORE: No, the YWCA.
LAMB: I`m sorry, the YWCA -- but the whole business that -- the swimming pool and the YWCA in Rankin versus the YWCA in Pittsburgh.
MONTEFIORE: I had been -- I was -- as I said, Rankin was kind of a mission center, and some women from the YWCA had come out there and organized. And I was -- I had joined. I was chosen, actually, as one of the three girls to be on a poster emphasizing mind, body and spirit. And we had our little white blouses and blue middies, you know, blue ties and middies on. And so I eagerly gathered up some friends, and we went downtown, too a 45-minute streetcar ride to downtown, to Chatham (ph) Street, to the YWCA, because we thought, Well, since we`re Girl Reserves -- they were called then -- we just wanted to swim.
And when we got there, the person at the desk said, Well, I`m sorry. You cannot swim. Well, I had not heard any such thing before, but I said to my little friends, Well, let us ask for the executive. So we went in and she did see us. And then the executive said to us, she said, Well, I realize that you are Girl Reserves and you`d like to swim, but we do not -- cannot -- you cannot -- I cannot break the rules of the YWCA and have you swim in this pool. And that was my first experience of protesting against that discrimination.
LAMB: How long did it take before a black person could swim in a pool in Pittsburgh?
MONTEFIORE: I don`t know. But one of the things that I feel was significant for me was that that pool was -- that the YWCA later changed its policy. But I don`t know how long that particular association took, but it proved to be later one of the most significant, in terms of the inclusion of women of all races.
LAMB: Now, in high school, was -- what kind of a high school was it? Was it mixed?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. There were very few black students in our high school. As a matter of fact, as I looked back later, I realized that it was a kind of survival of the fittest because while we were few, for three years, the black students graduated first, second and third in the classes. So that -- and I -- it`s an interesting thing because we had such a good relationship among students in the schools, and we were -- and then I was on almost every kind of -- the debating society, the basketball team, different activities. But that -- the reality was that only those -- I think the best students made it.
And years later, I went back for a reunion of the students of the school, and they honored the first principal, and they honored me as a graduate. And I realized then, when I saw where we had come from, some 39 states, and people with a lot of backgrounds, what a rich experience I had had growing up in that community with people of -- with such wide diversity, where in the high school, race was not a factor.
LAMB: You tell the story about the speech contest and going to Harrisburg.
MONTEFIORE: Yes. I participated in a number of things, and my English teacher encouraged me to enter the impromptu speech contest. Now, that`s a kind of activity in which you have to be prepared on a wide range of subjects, and then you draw your number and you make your speech. You don`t -- and my principal and my Latin teacher, who was also my coach, drove to Harrisburg because I had been the winner in our county and in our area. And when we got there, we went to the hotel, and the principal went in first, and then he sent for the teacher, who had been sitting with me. And she came back and she said, I just don`t know what to say, she said, because they didn`t know you were a Negro.
Well, as we were getting to go, and they were going to drive, my mother said to me, as she had a new dress that she`d had made for me to make this speech, she said, Dorothy, no matter what happens, keep yourself together. You just keep yourself together. And it was as if I could hear those words as the teacher was talking to me. And I said, That`s all right. If you -- she said, But you have to make your speech, and you have to have some dinner and you have to get dressed. And I said, But if there`s a delicatessen, I can get something and make a sandwich and get some milk and graham crackers. And I can take my dress to the place, and I would dress in the ladies room.
So that`s what we did. And I was very interested that that night, as I drew my number -- I was No. 17, and there were 17 contestants. It was in the Carnegie (ph) Hall of Harrisburg, state capital. I drew the number, of course, with no advantage because you only know what you`re going to speak the same 10 minutes -- everybody has the same 10 minutes to prepare. You`re notified that your turn is next 10 minutes beforehand.
But I drew the Briand (ph) Peace Compact, and as I made my little speech, I pointed out that Briand said the League of Nations could not produce peace, but the League of Nations was an instrument to be used by people, but peace would come in the hearts of men when peace -- when men really wanted peace, they would have peace. And I used that -- and I used that moment as an illustration, I said. The message of peace had come some 2,000 years ago, but if you remember, the parents of this child were turned away at the inn, like my parents -- like my principal and my teacher and I had been turned away. And I won the first prize with the unanimous vote of the judges. And the only black person in the room besides me was the janitor who had helped me find the drinking water when I was getting dressed.
LAMB: Now, this is the North.
MONTEFIORE: This is the North. This is Pennsylvania, the great state of -- Keystone State.
LAMB: Now, at that time, you would have been how old?
MONTEFIORE: I was 14.
LAMB: And that would have been in about...
MONTEFIORE: In 1926...
LAMB: In `26?
MONTEFIORE: No, it was 1927.
LAMB: In `27.
MONTEFIORE: I guess I was 15.
LAMB: Did -- was -- were you well aware, at that point, that you couldn`t stay in certain hotels, couldn`t swim in some swimming pools and...
MONTEFIORE: No, I -- this was a first experience for me. In fact, this would have been almost the first time that I had traveled that distance, and I`d usually gone with my parents to places where we -- you know, that were -- where we lived with people. I had never gone to a hotel.
LAMB: Well, then -- then the Columbia University story. And what year did you go to Columbia, or try to go to Columbia?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. I graduated from Rankin High School in 1929, and I had -- at that time, I loved the sciences, and I had a brother who recommended to me Barnard College. And I applied. My principal, teachers and all gave me good marks, good letters. Then I went and took the exams, and I was later informed that I had been accepted. But when I went in on the -- to take the -- what -- the placement test, when I went to do that, Dean Guildersleeve (ph) was so reluctant to talk with me, and I got so nervous because my train had been a little late, and I had thought that maybe I -- that was a factor. But finally, she said, I haven`t rushed to talk to you because, really, I didn`t realize you were a Negro. And she said, You know, we have two colored students already. Belle Tobias (ph) and Fiora Joseph (ph) were the two. And she said, So that we could not take another until the fall because Belle Tobias will be leaving.
Well, that was a very low moment for me. And I today, as I hear people talk about quotas, I react to quotas and I know what a quota can do. And after she said all this, I just was about to give up, but my sister, with whom I was living, after a few days followed my brother`s second advice. He said, Try NYU. We went to NYU. And as I was talking to Dean Ruth Schafer (ph), a few minutes before the close of registration, she asked me if I had a diploma. And I said no. She said, Well, have you applied to NYU? And I said no. And she looked at me as if she was so puzzled as to why would I still be trying to enter if I hadn`t applied.
And my sister whispered to me, and she said, Dorothy, show her your letter from Barnard College accepting you. So I showed her the letter. And I`ll never forget, she took the letter, she looked at it, and she said, A girl that makes these kind of grades doesn`t need an application. And she accepted me.
LAMB: What kind of grades had you made in high school?
MONTEFIORE: I was an A student.
LAMB: Straight A? And then what kind of a student were you in college?
MONTEFIORE: Straight A.
LAMB: Back to Barnard for a moment. Why would you have a quota of only two -- at the time, you were called Negroes -- of two black people? Why would they have that kind of a quota?
MONTEFIORE: I don`t know. But you know, at that time, that was -- I guess that was considered forward-looking because there were some schools who wouldn`t have accepted you at all.
But you know, an interesting thing about it is that later on, both Barnard and NYU gave me their highest honors. And at Barnard College, they do not give an honorary degree, they give a medal. And they awarded it to me. And you know, one of the reasons it`s hard -- really -- and I say to people you can`t get bitter about what happens to you. You have to keep working. And one of the things -- that certainly said to me that there`d been a change and...
LAMB: So what year did you graduate from NYU?
MONTEFIORE: I graduated from NYU -- well, I went there in 1929 on an Elks scholarship that I had won from an Elks oratorical contest on the Constitution of the United States. And my parents were older parents because I had come late in the lives of both of them. And I was very concerned. So I established myself, and I was able to do my bachelor`s degree in three years and my master`s degree the fourth year with that scholarship. And mind you, that scholarship was great then. It was $1,000 a year. It was a thousand-dollar scholarship that could see me through most of four years.
LAMB: How many years did you live in New York City?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I really -- from my high school days, I lived in New York until just recently. In fact, I consider myself more a New Yorker than anything else.
LAMB: When did you have the automobile accident?
MONTEFIORE: That was in 1942 -- `41. I had been to New York to -- I had been -- had attended and been active in the United Christian Youth Movement, and Saint James Presbyterian church had me to come and speak on -- for their youth program. And on the way back, as I got into Washington -- we drove up, drove back, with three of us in a car -- I think they said we were overcome with the fumes from those kind of heaters they had in cars at that time. And so we were tired, and we fell asleep and we hit a tree. That was 1941.
LAMB: And how long were you in the hospital?
MONTEFIORE: I was in the hospital 89 days, and I was on crutches for three months.
LAMB: What happened to you physically? What kind of injuries did you have?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I had a broken tibia. And of course, I had 67 stitches across my face. My face was flattened out. In fact, they thought at first I would have to have plastic surgery to restore it. My arm was broken. And it was quite an ordeal.
LAMB: What impact did that accident have on you? Did it change your life in any way?
MONTEFIORE: Well, it was helpful to me because being unable -- and my eye was injured, and being unable to use my eyes and to have to lie quietly, it was a great time for reflection. And then I had some great experiences. Mrs. Roosevelt, who was in the White House, sent me -- sent flowers and came to see me. People from all over the world who had -- in the YWCA sent messages. And there were all kinds of things happened.
LAMB: And your job in 1941 was what?
MONTEFIORE: My job in 1941 -- I was the executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley (ph) YWCA in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: Who was Phyllis Wheatley, by the way?
MONTEFIORE: Well, Phyllis Wheatley was a poet who -- whose contribution to all history is so great -- President George Washington drew upon some of her works. And she became a symbol of achievement, a symbol of education. And she has -- her name has been used on many institutions in the black community, as -- for the inspiration that she brings.
LAMB: Did you ever meet her? Was she alive when...
MONTEFIORE: Oh, no. That was way ahead of my time.
LAMB: Way ahead of your time? But you did meet, as you say, Mrs. Roosevelt. When was the first time you met her and why?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I first met her when I was on the staff at the Harlem YWCA. I had been there about a month. I was the assistant executive. And the -- I had the assignment to escort Mrs. Roosevelt into a meeting that Mrs. Bethune (ph) was holding at the YWCA building in Harlem.
LAMB: Got a picture here of you and Mrs. Bethune.
MONTEFIORE: Yes, that -- that picture is from the time when I -- when Mrs. Bethune, since I was working for the YWCA in Washington, made me -- or coopted me, almost, as the executive director for the National Council of Negro Women. But in 1937, when I was going into this -- when Mrs. Roosevelt was to come into the meeting for Mrs. Bethune, I escorted her. And as I was leaving, Mrs. Bethune asked me my name. She said, Come back. We need you. And I`ve been back ever since.
But you know, the interesting thing is that was the time when the first lady of the land could drive her own Thunderbird, park it in a Harlem street, come in and stay for two hours, and her only advance would be Dorothy Height escorting her in and out.
LAMB: One of the things -- you`re tall, aren`t you? Pretty tall, yes?
MONTEFIORE: I am 5`9".
LAMB: 5`9``. How tall was Mrs. Roosevelt?
MONTEFIORE: Just about that.
LAMB: And when you think back on the times, how often were you around her?
MONTEFIORE: Do I -- what?
LAMB: How often were you around her? How often did you see Mrs. Roosevelt?
MONTEFIORE: Well, actually, in 1938, I was one of 10 young people that Mrs. Roosevelt called to Hyde Park, Moliard and Bill Hinckley (ph) and a number of us. And we spent the weekend with her, planning for what was called the World Conference on Peace, Youth Conference on Peace, to be held at Vassar College. And I felt it was a very good experience because Mrs. Roosevelt really took seriously helping us as young people understand how to stand for what we were but also how to respect other people, how to work together. And she followed the conference all the way through, knitting (ph) her way, but before that, she had prepared us in a very real way. I don`t think any of us ever will forget that weekend at Hyde Park at her Valkill Cottage.
LAMB: You were at the Valkill (ph)...
MONTEFIORE: Valkill (ph).
LAMB: ... College instead of over at the main house?
MONTEFIORE: That`s right.
LAMB: You quote her in here -- somebody -- as saying to somebody, that when they said what a wonderful person she was, that she was a wonderful person because of her husband. Do you remember that quote?
MONTEFIORE: No, she said that.
MONTEFIORE: Yes. I was a member of a group called the Committee of Correspondents who brought women from all over the world to meetings, and at one of the meetings, a group of women, Asian women, as they were leaving, Mrs. Roosevelt was the closing speaker. I had led the discussion. And when the group was closing and Mrs. Roosevelt was about to leave, one of them said, "Mrs. Roosevelt, how did you come to be such a great woman?"
And it was interesting. She sat down on the nearest desk to her and she said, she said, "because I was married to a great man, and he taught me many things." She said, "He was the governor of the state of New York, and he could not travel, but he sent me." And she said, "I came to see people, to understand people. And I would come back to him and report and say, oh, yes, I went to that orphanage and they were beautiful, and they have good meals and all. And he would say, Eleanor, don`t you think that when the wife of the governor appears, the meals are going to be better than usual? And he said, the next time that you go, don`t go to do just what they have planned for you. Beforehand, find out the poorest neighborhoods, and then you ask to go to those neighborhoods. And when you do, look at the clothes hanging on the line and they will tell you something about the people. And look out to see how many people are just sitting around the streets. And adults," he said, "and what are the men doing? Are they all off at work or are they sitting around wishing for work?"
And she said that made a difference.
It`s interesting, I was in Taiwan a few years ago. A woman came up to me and she said, "you may not remember but I was in the group." She said, "I asked the question of Mrs. Roosevelt," and she said, "Mrs. Roosevelt`s answer changed my life." She said, "I am now the champion of the poor people here." And she said -- she told me she had been elected to office and what she was doing.
LAMB: I want to ask you the same question about two different people. In your lifetime, which black person, African-American, has been the most effective in civil rights, and which white person in your experience has been the most dedicated to changing the civil rights situation?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I think -- I think I would have to say the leadership of Dr. King. I think that the quality of leadership, the teachings that he gave and the recognition that we had to have freedom everywhere, and we had to have justice everywhere, or neither would exist anywhere. In the white community, I can think of so many, of course Mrs. Roosevelt and women like that. But I think I would have to say that in a surprising way the leadership that Lyndon Johnson gave in helping the country get the Civil Rights Act was very critical.
LAMB: You mentioned Mary McLeod Bethune, and I will show the picture again. How did you get to know her, and why was she so important in your life?
MONTEFIORE: Mary McLeod Bethune was a woman born of slave parents, and yet she became an adviser to presidents of the United States. She`s the only African-American women to have founded a four-year accredited college, which is Bethune-Cookman College. And for me in 1937 to come under her tutelage, to have the opportunity to see how she worked with both the powerful people and the powerless was really a critical element to my whole growth and development.
LAMB: What was she doing in 1937?
MONTEFIORE: She was -- she -- President Roosevelt had brought her to Washington as his adviser on minority affairs for the National Youth Administration, and later she became a special adviser to the president, which was a unique role. And Mrs. Bethune for me was a person who dealt with the simplest matters as well as the larger issues in a fashion that always was without personal feelings or getting herself in the way. She was always related (ph) to see how she could make things better or how she could bring people together. And she, in establishing the National Council of Negro Women and calling women to learn to work together, she was teaching coalition building and collaboration and networking long before those words became popular.
LAMB: You said she died in 1955.
MONTEFIORE: She died in 1955.
LAMB: What were the circumstances?
MONTEFIORE: She was asthmatic, and she had traveled a lot, and she simply had one of her attacks and she died peacefully in her home.
LAMB: You also talk about going to the funeral of Mrs. Roosevelt and meeting someone outside, what was that, 1962?
LAMB: In New York?
MONTEFIORE: It was in New York and it was at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and over the years I had kept in touch with Mrs. Roosevelt. In fact, she was very helpful. But there was a young woman, Augusta (ph) her name was, who had been working for Mrs. Roosevelt. And then she lost her health, but in Mrs. Roosevelt`s last days, she brought her back to be with her. And she and I went to that -- came out and saw each other at the conclusion of that memorial service for Mrs. Roosevelt.
And as we stood there in the rain, she talked about Mrs. Roosevelt, but the thing that got to me the most was that she said that the fact that Mrs. Roosevelt would send for her after she had been away from her almost 20 years meant a lot to her. And then Mrs. Roosevelt was having such pain and needed to be turned over, and when she reached to do it, she said Mrs. Roosevelt said, "Augusta (ph), don`t forget the doctor told you not to lift anything heavy." And she said, "at that moment I would have done anything that would have kept her alive," but she said, "I cannot believe that there was such a person who would think about me at a moment like that when I was trying to be of help to her." It was a very real experience.
LAMB: How many years did you work for the YWCA?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I worked -- all in all I worked for the YWCA some 40 years, but I was 33 years on the national YWCA staff.
LAMB: Doing what?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I went in to work on interracial education. For 18 years, I was the director of training, and then in -- as the civil rights movement moved and a lot of YWCA moved to implement its interracial charter, I became the director and an organizer of the Center for Racial Justice, so that I entered - and I think you see even in my assignments what I -- the -- a major national organization whose membership is drawn largely from the majority population, but which was inclusive the changes that were made, and that today it has -- it has something I had a major hand in working on, which was the creation of one imperative in 1970, and that one imperative is to thrust our collective power toward the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.
LAMB: You have a lot of photographs in here of famous people that you`re standing around. One of them is right here with Ray Wilkins (ph) in the middle and you`re right behind him, Bobby Kennedy on the left, and A. Phillip Randolph...
LAMB: ... on the right, along with -- I believe Whitney Young is in the photo, too. What do you remember about that day? Where was that?
MONTEFIORE: Well, that was one of the days when we were coming together, feeling good about the fact that we were moving really the civil rights agenda. And I was the one woman member of the United Civil Rights Leadership Group, which included Dr. King, and Roy Wilkins (ph) and Whitney Young, and James Farmer, and later John Lewis, and A. Philip Randolph, and I was a part of that group. And that`s one of the many occasions when we came together to develop strategies, but that was one when we could kind of rejoice a little bit, because it looks like we were getting the Civil Rights Act onward.
LAMB: Now, A. Philip Randolph, you walk over here to Union Station, a block from here, and there`s a statue of him right in the concourse.
LAMB: And you said earlier that he was the one that organized the 1963 march?
MONTEFIORE: Yes, that fact sometimes gets overlooked.
LAMB: Who was he?
MONTEFIORE: A. Philip Randolph was the person who really organized the -- what was called the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and he became a great leader in the labor movement. A. Philip Randolph was an eloquent speaker, and even at the march on Washington, and I tried to write it but in no way that I wrote it would have come out that way (ph). He introduced Martin Luther King, and he said, "Martin Luther King J.R.," and that always struck me, because that was sort of characteristic of his eloquence.
But he was one who stressed organization. He always said, "at the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take. And you keep what you can hold, but you can`t hold anything without power, and power comes from organization." I will never forget those words of his.
LAMB: Pictures in here with you and Lyndon Johnson.
LAMB: That meeting, what was that about?
MONTEFIORE: That was a meeting when Rosa Greg, President of the Federaltion of Colored Womens Clubs and I met with him to let him know more about us, but also to talk with him about some of our concerns about issues related to women, because I think all the way through the civil rights effort, there`s been a need to still keep alive the issues related to women, because we who are women who are also colored have the double factors to deal against, both racism and sexism.
LAMB: What do you remember personally about him?
MONTEFIORE: I remember they -- what I remember about him that had the great impact on me was when he was the vice president, he held a meeting of the Negro leadership. And in that meeting, he said to them, he had just come into office, and he said, "I know that you have been reluctant knowing my history." But he said, you know, "You wanted John F. Kennedy so you took me." And so, and then he added, he said, "But what you don`t know is that Mary McLeod Bethune put my integration diapers on me when I was in NYA movement." He said -- because she was the head and adviser to the National Youth Administration, and he said, "I called her and said, I got this message to go to Tallahassee," he said, "but that`s a colored school." And she said, Mrs. Bethune said to him, "Lyndon Johnson, I didn`t ask you what color the people are." He said -- she said to him, "you are representative of the United States of America and you go wherever you are assigned." And he said, "believe me, I went." But I often think of that because of his own recognition of his own steps along the way.
LAMB: What do you remember about Ronald Reagan and this meeting?
MONTEFIORE: Well, in that picture, Ronald Reagan recognized the 50th anniversary of the National Council of Negro Women. And he and Mrs. Reagan not only received us and welcomed us, but I thought it was very significant that even those who worked at the White House said, this was one of the most beautiful receptions that had ever been held, and Ronald Reagan also gave me the presidential award, so that we had -- we had that kind of experience while he was in the White House.
LAMB: I want to read a quote again from your book, where you say "in our society, every step African-Americans take is seen in political terms. Look at the political parties. The Democrats seem to take us for granted and the Republicans seem to count us out, except for temporary flirtations where they really need us. We have learned that we have no permanent friends, we just have permanent issues, and we have to keep working on them."
LAMB: So does that make you neither a Democrat nor a Republican?
MONTEFIORE: No, it makes me say that this is the United States of America, and like people often say to me about Ronald Reagan, I always say, we have one president at a time, and he is the president of all the people, and whichever president is there, we have to hold responsible. We cannot choose. We have to be responsible.
And I also feel -- that is why I also feel -- and it goes back to something I learned as a young person in the Christian youth movement. It was this quote from Harold Lasky (ph). He said, "we owe no church or state a blind and obedient and unreasoning obedience. We owe it only the highest judgment of which we are capable." And I think it means that if we have to more and more look at who the people are and what they do and have those issues and how they relate to the needs of people, and not simply be blindly led or blindly following any party.
LAMB: Did you know William E.B. DeBois?
MONTEFIORE: Yes, one of the joys of my college days in New York was the opportunity I had to gather students from -- black students from City College, NYU and Hunter College. And we would have discussions. But our favorite speaker on -- and we always did this about once a month -- was Dr. DeBois, and we had him more frequently than any. We called them the DeBois lectures. Dr. DeBois really helped one go beyond any narrow thinking about Africa and about the African people. And he always had a kind of way of -- you know, he was a great intellectual, but he had a real sense of humor, and we loved -- I loved being there, just to be challenged by him.
LAMB: Did you know Malcolm X?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. I had the experience just before -- shortly before he was assassinated of answering a call of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee (ph) to come to Sidney Poitier`s house in Pleasantville, where Malcolm X had just come back from Mecca, and he wanted to share with the leadership in the civil rights group his thinking.
And I will never forget, he said to us, "we have to be working in unity," and we long since learned that unity didn`t mean uniformly, but he made it very clear, he said, "we should not be in the press talking against each other. We need to learn to work together." He said, "I have put so much attention on the white man and the evil that the white man has done," he said, "I have come back from Mecca and I want to put the attention instead on black people and how we can build our people and what we can do and how we can all work together."
LAMB: There are pictures in your book of Jimmy Carter, of George Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, of Bill Clinton. But unless I missed something, I can`t find a picture here of Richard Nixon and you. Is there a reason for that?
MONTEFIORE: It probably is that -- that I had many pictures. There probably is -- there probable are some. Those were selected by the publisher. But also, even at the time that the National Council of Negro Women placed the monument to Mary McLeod Bethune in Lincoln Park, it was at the time that President Ford had taken hold, and so I think there might have been a picture with President Ford, because he was the person who accepted this, which is really the first memorial to an African-American or to a woman of any race to be placed in the nation`s capital in a public park, and that was the Bethune monument.
LAMB: That`s 14 blocks from here, behind from the Capitol, in Lincoln Park.
MONTEFIORE: Yes, it is.
LAMB: The National Council of Negro Women, what is it, how long have you been associated with it?
MONTEFIORE: I had been associated with it since that day in 1937, and Mrs. Bethune had called together two years before that women from organizations and she said, what we needed was not another organization but one that would bring people together. And she said, "because the Negro woman" -- and these are her words -- "stands outside of America`s mainstream of opportunity, influence and power." And she said, "what we needed was to harness our will and power so that we could deal with the problems that affected us, to try to make life better."
LAMB: 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, a building that has your name on it.
LAMB: What is it and how did you get it?
MONTEFIORE: 633 Pennsylvania Avenue is really a part of the legacy and vision that Mary McLeod had, Mary McLeod Bethune had, because she always said I want to see my women with a strong presence in the nation`s capital. And we had purchased a building on -- at 1318 Vermont, which is now the Bethune Memorial Museum, the only archives in the country devoted to black women.
And we wanted to -- when that was taken over through the park service by law, it was because it is now (ph) incorporated as one of the historic sites in the park service, we took the revenue from that, the equity that was there that came to us from the federal government to initiate a building fund, and we started out, and within four years, and then we discovered this building at 633 between the White House and the Capitol. And with the hard work of so many women and friends, corporations and churches, all working together, that is now our national headquarters, a site, a place where we say it will be a center for our developing national strategies, but always focus on grassroots results to keep making things better.
LAMB: You tell us in the book that the first price that Sears had on that building when they wanted to sell it was $20 million.
MONTEFIORE: $21 million.
LAMB: How much did you pay for it?
MONTEFIORE: In the end, we got the building for $8 million. And then they had all this beautiful artwork, all of Matthew Brady`s work, all the equipment -- the building is beautifully equipped.
LAMB: The photographer Matthew Brady?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. And so we then were able to get all of that for $200,000, so we got the whole thing for $8,200,000.
LAMB: Who paid for it? Where did you get the money?
MONTEFIORE: From our members, but we also were very fortunate, in fact that we have had Chrysler, Ford Motor Company and General Motors were our guarantors, and that was an unusual thing for a non-profit group, and they`ve worked with us. And then in the last year, we got it down to about $5 million, and we had a dinner called the uncommon heights gala dinner. And at that time, Oprah Winfrey and Don King and Freddie Mac (ph) and Fannie Mae (ph), and all of these friends added their big gifts, and I can`t name them all, but all of that meant that at that occasion we`ve got the commitment for the $5 million so the building could have the mortgage burned.
And I think the thing that we see is that this is more than a building. It is a center that recognizes the contribution African-Americans and African-American women have made, and it gives us a site from which to be of greater service.
LAMB: Now, did you stay single all of your life?
LAMB: Did you miss anything because of that, in your opinion?
MONTEFIORE: I don`t think so. I think that I have had a very rich life. I have had many friends. I have many -- I have a great extended family, and I have enjoyed it, and I have enjoyed it particularly seeing things change, but I have tried to work on.
LAMB: Now, how old are you in this picture?
MONTEFIORE: I was about 32, and I was -- that was a moment in my life when I was working for the YWCA.
LAMB: Living in New York City?
LAMB: Time`s up. The name of the book is "Open Wide the Freedom Gates," and our guest has been Dorothy Height. Thank you very much.
MONTEFIORE: Thank you very much. It`s a real pleasure.
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