I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Dorothy Height in all my reading about the Civil Rights movement and before. I thought I knew so many of the known and unknown heroes. But I had never come across her until a few years ago when I was researching information about my friend Thelma Dale [Perkins].
Dorothy Height was born March 24, 1912 in Richmond, Virginia and died in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 2010. She was educated in public schools in Rankin, Pennsylvania where her parents moved when she was four. She was an excellent orator and won an oratory competition which allowed her to attend NYU where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree. She did postgraduate work at Columbia and the New School for Social Work.
Dorothy Height was President of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997, working on such issues as voting rights, poverty, women's rights, and AIDS. Height met Mary McLeod Bethune while working at the YWCA - she was chosen to escort Eleanor Roosevelt to an affair of the National Council of Negro Women. Bethune and Height started working together; Bethune became her mentor. As president of the Council she initiated many programs in the south including giving a pig to needy families, and flying in groups of women to speak with southern women. All that she did resulted in uplifting the station of poor women and families. Simultaneously she remained working for the YWCA where forged the charter that would integrate the YWCA.
Dorothy Height worked with the big six of the civil rights movement - John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King, James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney M. Young, Jr. She helped organize King's famous march on Washington in 1963, and was right next to him when he delivered his famous speech. Although she was an incredible orator in her own right, she was not allowed to speak that day. She told many interviewers that the task at hand was more important than individual limelight.
President Obama called Dorothy Height the godmother of the civil rights movement. Ella Baker was the leader, Dorothy Height was the exemplar. While I hesitate to say this, the NY Times called her the "grand dame" of the civil rights movement. With her fashionable clothes and brilliant large hats, she was definitely a classy and elegant woman. I believe she inspired many women to strive to become whatever they wanted even at times when there were few rights for women. Height received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton in 1994, the Congressional Gold Medal by George W. Bush in 2004, the two highest awards this country can grant a civilian. She was awarded three dozen honorary degrees by such institutions as Tuskegee, Harvard, and Princeton. And the school she originally wanted to attend but turned her away on the pretext of a quota, granted her an honorary degree as well - Barnard College - her favorite.
The New York Times obituary explains some of the reason for the lack of knowledge of this incredible woman -- she was pushed off stage when it came to women's rights by white women, and by African Americans because of her sex. No doubt she faced discrimination in subtle ways - she was clearly a formidable presence and one not to be ignored. I am most admiring of her ability to stick with the struggle despite tremendous odds. "Throughout her career, she responded quietly but firmly, working with a characteristic mix of limitless energy and steely gentility to ally the two movements in the fight for social justice." A weaker person would not have persevered. She clearly showed the importance of fighting both as an African American and as a woman.
From the Washington Post Obituary -- "On her 92nd birthday, she received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest decoration Congress can bestow. But Ms. Height often urged her co-workers to "stop worrying about whose name gets in the paper and start doing something about rats, and day care and low wages. . . . We must try to take our task more seriously and ourselves more lightly."
Biography - http://www.biography.com/people/dorothy-height-40743
Chair of National Council of Negro Women - https://ncnw.org/about/height.htm
NY Times obituary of Dorothy Height - largely unsung hero of civil rights movement - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/us/21height.html?_r=0
Biography from National Association of Social Workers - NASW - http://www.naswfoundation.org/pioneers/h/height.htm
Biography from Encyclopedia Britannica - http://www.britannica.com/biography/Dorothy-Height
Obituary in Washington Post - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/20/AR2010042001287.html
Dorothy Height Visionary Project -- http://www.visionaryproject.org/heightdorothy/
Dorothy Height Facts - http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Dorothy_I._Height.aspx
Dr. Dorothy I. Height Racial Justice Award - http://www.ywcalakecounty.org/site/c.bjJULfNPJiL6H/b.8360685/k.5F1/Dr_Dorothy_I_Height_Racial_Justice_Award.htm