Civil rights activist Dorothy Height died this morning (April 20th) at the age of 98. Learn some history about this magnificent woman…
Dorothy Height was the leading female voice of the 1960s civil rights movement as well as a longtime president of the National Council of Negro Women.
Height was born in Richmond, Va., and the family moved to the Pittsburgh area when she was four. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University and did postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work. (She had been turned away by Barnard College because it already had its quota of two black women.)
In 1937, while she was working at the Harlem YWCA, Height met famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had come to speak at a meeting of Bethune’s organization. Height eventually rose to leadership roles in both the council and the YWCA.
In the 1950s and 1960s, she was the leading woman helping the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists orchestrate the civil rights movement. Height was even on the platform at the Lincoln Memorial, sitting only a few feet from King, when he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963.
Height became president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957 and held the post until 1997, when she was 85. She remained chairman of the group.
“I hope not to work this hard all the rest of my life,” she said at the time. “But whether it is the council, whether it is somewhere else, for the rest of my life, I will be working for equality, for justice, to eliminate racism, to build a better life for our families and our children.”
Height received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 from President Bill Clinton.
To celebrate Height’s 90th birthday in March 2002, friends and supporters raised $5 million to enable her organization to pay off the mortgage on its Washington headquarters. The donors included Oprah Winfrey and Don King.
One of Height’s sayings was, “If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.” She liked to quote 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said that the three effective ways to fight for justice are to “agitate, agitate, agitate.”
Rest In Paradise Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010).