Chapter OneIn November 1937, one month after I began working at the Harlem YWCA, Imet Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt on the same day. Mrs.Bethune was hosting a meeting of the National Council of Negro Women,which she had founded two years before. Mrs. Roosevelt, America's FirstLady, was to speak. As the newest member of the YWCA staff, I was assignedto greet Mrs. Roosevelt and escort her to the meeting.
I alerted the receptionists at the two main doors to let me knowimmediately when Mrs. Roosevelt arrived. We were very excited, and eachminute anticipating her arrival seemed like an eternity. Then, all of asudden, one of the janitors ran up. Mrs. Roosevelt had entered through theservice entrance and was making her own way toward the auditorium.
I saw my little job going up in smoke. Greeting the First Lady was my onlyassignment, and I had muffed it. Who would have thought that Mrs.Roosevelt would park her own car on a Harlem street and come through theservice entrance?
I intercepted her just before she got to the auditorium. I caught mybreath, greeted her warmly, and escorted her inside.
Mrs. Roosevelt gave an exciting speech. She wanted to get to Hyde Parkbefore dark, but Mrs. Bethune persuaded her to stay long enough for thewomen to serenade her with "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."
As Mrs. Roosevelt gathered her things, Mrs. Bethune turned to me.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Dorothy Height," I whispered.
"I want to talk to you," she said. "We need you."
I escorted Mrs. Roosevelt to her car-properly, this time-and wavedgoodbye. By the time I returned, Mrs. Bethune had already appointed me tothe Resolutions Committee of the National Council of Negro Women.
On that fall day, the redoubtable Mary McLeod Bethune put her hand on me.She drew me into her dazzling orbit of people in power and people inpoverty. I remember Mrs. Bethune made her fingers into a fist toillustrate for the women the significance of working together to eliminateinjustice. "The freedom gates are half ajar," she said. "We must pry themfully open."
I have been committed to the calling ever since.