Dorothy Height's new role Successor named: National Council of Negro Women reaches out to next generation.

December 19, 1997

DON'T USE THE word retirement around Dorothy I. Height. At age 85, she's not ready to rest. But the woman who has headed the National Council of Negro Women the past 40 years is letting someone else take the reins.

Ms. Height will become chairwoman of NCNW's board of directors. Replacing her in February as president and chief executive officer of the civil rights organization founded in 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune will be Jane E. Smith, currently director of The Atlanta Project (TAP), a neighborhood improvement program of the Carter Center.

Although NCNW members dislike it, the anachronistic term for African Americans -- "colored" -- that group shares in its name with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People invites comparisons.

The appointment last year of Kweisi Mfume as CEO of the NAACP signaled a change in its approach, with more emphasis on youth. The same is expected of Ms. Smith when she takes charge of the NCNW. As an umbrella for other organizations, it claims 45,000 members.

Many people think of NCNW as little old ladies who hold teas and sell Mrs. Bethune's famous tea cakes. Not so, says Beatrice Brown, president of the 52-year-old Baltimore NCNW section. NCNW here provides mentors and reading tutors for children and runs anti-drug and HIV education programs. It has started a student chapter at Morgan State University.

Such activities, and others suggested as fitting legacies of the Million Woman March, can keep NCNW viable for many more years.

The civil rights agenda in America has greatly changed; the old civil rights organizations must change as well, increasing their focus on problems within the community in addition to racism. It was the vision of Mary McLeod Bethune, daughter of slaves, that birthed NCNW. The strength of Dorothy Height kept NCNW alive. Its next phase is eagerly awaited.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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