Dorothy Height

Address at First Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama - Oct. 5, 1963

Dorothy Height
October 05, 1963— Selma, Alabama
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Dear [Jim] Forman and friends, I think anyone who has the opportunity to be here tonight can only be uplifted by your spirit and your courage. In fact, it makes me proud to be an American and to be an American Negro, to be in this room tonight. Because many of us across this country long to see the day when the kinds of things that we're working for will no longer be necessary because it will just be taken for granted that to be a citizen is to be a citizen and the rights for one will be the rights for all. But that day will only come because we not only pray for it, but that we work for it.

I want you to know that I wish that I had the words to speak for some million women who are within the twenty-five national organizations in the National Council of Negro Women. Mary McLeod Bethune brought us together twenty-seven years ago because, she said, "what we really needed was to learn how to work together and to stand together." And I think that a woman who was born of slave parents dreamed of something which today is more important than ever before. And I want to let you know that there are millions across this country who have their eyes on you. But more than that, they have their hearts and their prayers with you. Because we know that only as we are together can we achieve the things that are the best traditions for which our country stands.

I couldn't help but think as I looked out here and listened as we sang "This Little Light of Mine," how many fears there were across this country when people talked about a march to Washington. There were stories of what was going to happen. The stories were many. I think the chief of police in Washington, D.C., did a very clever thing when he met the whole group of people who were asking him questions because they went prepared to have him tell them what to do in case of rioting and in case of all kinds of things happening. And he looked them all in the eye and he said, "Well, the first thing to do, tell everybody to come to Washington with no mayonnaise on their sandwiches."

And I think that the United States of America had an object lesson in the March on Washington [August 28, 1963, protest on Washington, D.C., with 250,000 participants] because it saw there the way at which people who stand for something can stand together. And especially when the thing they stand for is on the side of right and justice. And I hope that this little light of mine can somehow shine wherever I go and carry back to every corner of this country something of the spirit which I've sensed in the young people and the older people here in this community.

I want you to know, too, that October 7 will be a day of importance all around this world and I am sure that just as someone from our United States Information Agency was able to say that there was a real lesson when the pictures that grew out of the March on Washington could be shared with seventy-eight countries of the world, and the people of the world could see that in a democratic country, the freedom to express oneself was assured in the nation's capitol to people throughout this land and that this was a moment that made him proud that he could show this. I hope that October 7 will be another demonstration of a day when all people, everywhere, can be proud because every light of freedom that burns in every heart will somehow find its way to take hold of that great American right, the right to register and the right to vote.

God bless all of you and may I say again on behalf of the National Council of Negro Women that there is very little that any of us can bring to you. We can only take from you the sense of dedication to the whole cause of freedom and assure you that your sisters and brothers across this land are with you.

Many people talk about the way we are divided. Many people act as though Negroes were something perfect, that we were better than human, that there would never be any difference among us. But whatever our differences, I am renewed in my feeling tonight that there is one thing in which we are all united: we want our freedom and we want it everywhere in our country, now. Thank you.

As printed in Houck, D.W., and Dixon, D.E. (Eds.) (2009). Women and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi.