WASHINGTON – Women – long excluded from the leadership of many civil rights organizations – need to play a greater role in the future, a panel of black religious and political leaders said Friday.
“African-American women are the backbone of every institution in this community,” said Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women.
“We will be stronger if we learn to utilize [their] leadership,” she said.
Height recalled the 1963 March on Washington, when hundreds of thousands converged on the Mall to protest racial injustice.
“The only woman’s voice that was heard on that occasion was Mahalia Jackson’s,” she said. Jackson sang at the event.
Little has changed since then, said Height, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
She added that there are not enough influential black women in the clergy.
Roy Winbush, chairman of the Congress of National Black Churches, said moving women into the higher ranks is “a slow process.”
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Baltimore, also criticized black organizations for failing to include young people in their activities. He cited October’s Million Man March in Washington as one of the few recent events in which people of all generations came together in a show of solidarity.
“I have grown increasingly cynical of forums about young people without young people,” said Mfume, who will take over as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in February.
He urged parents to teach their children about black history to increase awareness of their responsibilities to their communities.
“How can we expect 16-year-olds to know about the Middle Passage and the Harlem Renaissance when we don’t tell them our stories?” Mfume asked.
Height echoed Mfume’s concerns, emphasizing the importance of nurturing young people within a family environment.
“We can deplore the gangs, but they’re in gangs because they’re looking for family, a sense of belonging,” she said. The discussion came during the first day of a three-day conference designed to highlight public-policy concerns of minorities during this election year. -30-