Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height
Dorothy Irene Height

(1912-03-24)March 24, 1912
DiedApril 20, 2010(2010-04-20) (aged 98)
OccupationEducator and social activist

Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) was an American civil rights and women's rights activist.[1] Height specifically focused on the issues of African-American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness.[2] She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years.[3]

Early life[edit]

Dorothy Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 24, 1912. When she was five years old, she moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania, a steel town in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where she graduated from Rankin High School in 1929. While in Rankin, she attended racially integrated schools. In high school, Height showed great talent as an orator. While in high school, Height became socially and politically active by participating in anti-lynching campaigns. On one instance when Height was participating in class, a white principal denied Height the right to conduct her class in song they were being taught. However, Height's fellow students supported and upheld her through the situation.[4] When Height was a teenager, she marched alongside many other individuals who were involved in protesting and radicalization in Times Square who were proclaiming the statement "stop the lynching."[4] While progressing in her skills as an orator, it took her to the national oratory competition. Height won the event, and in return she was awarded a college scholarship. Height received a scholarship from the Elks, which helped her to attend college.[5] She was admitted to Barnard College in 1929, but upon arrival was denied entrance because the school had an unwritten policy of admitting only two black students per year.[6] She enrolled instead at New York University, earning an undergraduate degree in 1932 and a master's degree in educational psychology the following year.[7] She pursued further postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work (the predecessor of the Columbia University School of Social Work).[8] While Height began her career in New York, she took up a position as a social worker and assistant executive director for the Harlem YWCA. In the YWCA, Height worked by raising public awareness for the victimization of many colored female domestic workers that helped change the climate of that profession among women.[9]


Dorothy Height with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1960

Height is openly acknowledged as the first leader during the civil rights movement to recognize inequality for women and African Americans concurrently, as the two concerns had been viewed separately prior to Height's revitalization.[10] Height's career operations touched base on involving the African American mission globally to connect the movement in the United States to other places around the world. Height took part in multiple global activities such as conferences, official delegations, and leadership training sessions. Height participated in the Liberia Watch Program and worked within the ranks of leadership. Height began working for Liberia in 1955.[11] During one of Height's trips to Washington, D.C., for an oratory contest, she was denied entrance to a hotel due to her race. In retaliation, Height peacefully countered the act of discrimination by getting a sandwich to-go from the hotel and re-adjusting herself in the bathroom. Height would follow along the lines of numerous other civil rights leaders who utilized the protest of non-violence.[4] After graduating, Heights took on various jobs serving poor communities around New York City. Although it was a dark time in the Depression Era, Height's skills were much in demand. Height also contributed to those in the communities by stressing the significance of structure needed within black families. Height's purpose behind pushing the importance of familial structure was to aid in preserving African American ethical practices and eliminating social issues that were effecting those in the community.[12] Height started working as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department, and at the age of 25, she began a career as a civil rights activist, joining the National Council of Negro Women. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women. In 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. She was also an active member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, throughout her life, developing leadership training programs and ecumenical education programs.[13] She was initiated at Rho Chapter at Columbia University. She served as national president of the sorority from 1947 to 1956.[13]

In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, she organized "Wednesdays in Mississippi,"[14] which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding. Height's background of being a prize-winning orator allowed her to serve as an effective middleman through creating a dialogue of understanding between unfamiliar parties. Height's position also included planning and organizing important meetings of various civil rights leaders who held different philosophies and ideas. Heights contribution to the many leaders of the civil rights movement allowed it to yield higher success in the local areas she partook effort in.[10] Though Height was not called upon to speak at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, she served as one of the chief organizers for the gathering becoming a key part in the demonstration's success. Height also acted as an ambassador for the lone women's organization during the event.[10] Height was one of the only known women to partake in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[10] Upon working with Martin Luther King Jr. Height stated that King had once told her that Height was responsible for making The NAACP look acceptable during difficult times in the movement.[15] Height was also a founding member of the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership. In his autobiography, civil rights leader James Farmer described Height as one of the "Big Six" of the Civil Rights Movement, but noted that her role was frequently ignored by the press due to sexism.[16]

Dorothy Height with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 2009.

Starting in 1963, Height assembled a team representing the NCNW which would journey to Selma, Alabama and would assess the state of the area's conditions. The group Height had put together was made up of two colored women, Height along with Dr. Dorothy Ferebee, and two white women, Cowen and Shirley Smith who served as an executive director for the National Women's Committee for civil rights. Even though an act like this proved to be risky at the time, the caravan of four women rode together racially integrated and arrived at a colored First Baptist Church. In Height's time there, her and her group would congregate with the adolescents and talk at a church rally aimed at the civil rights movement.[17]

American leaders regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.[clarification needed] Height encouraged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to desegregate schools and President Lyndon B. Johnson to appoint African-American women to positions in government. In the mid-1960s, she wrote a column called "A Woman's Word" for the weekly African-American newspaper the New York Amsterdam News.[18]

Height served on a number of committees, including as a consultant on African affairs to the Secretary of State, the President's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, and the President's Committee on the Status of Women. In 1974, she was named to the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published the Belmont Report[19] a response to the infamous "Tuskegee Syphilis Study" and an international ethical touchstone for researchers to this day. Also in 1974, Height helped organize a campaign in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C. which had an attendance of more than eighteen thousand people. In doing so Height helped accomplish multiple major feats, a statue dedicated to a colored female civil rights leader was raised for the first time as well as the first statue of a female on federal property of Washington, D.C. This achievement challenged cultural limitations of both colored people and women throughout the United States at the time. Height stated that the parks meaning was forever changed from the simple Lincoln and a slave symbol, conveying the importance of women's and civil rights progress intertwined.[20] During 1977, Dorothy Height partnered with numerous other civil rights activists creating the Black Leadership Forum. As a result, Height would later acquire the Equal Opportunity Award issued from the Urban League in 1982. Height also received the Urban League's Legend Award in 2003 and would eventually receive the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal.[21]

Later life[edit]

In 1990, Height, along with 15 other African Americans, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.[22] In 1994 Height became a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was issued by President Bill Clinton. This would then be followed by Height's 90th birthday celebration in 2002 which would feature many friends and fellow supporters of the movement. All together, Height's audience raised five million dollars funding her organization's mortgage on their Washington, D.C. headquarters. Two notable donors of the act were Don King and Oprah Winfrey.[4] Height was recognized by Barnard for her achievements as an honorary alumna during the college's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 2004.[6]

The musical stage play If This Hat Could Talk, based on her memoirs Open Wide The Freedom Gates, debuted in 2005. The work showcases her unique perspective on the civil rights movement and details many of the behind-the-scenes figures and mentors who shaped her life, including Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Height was the chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the largest civil rights for women's rights organization in the USA. She was an honored guest at the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, and was seated on the stage.[3]

President Barack Obama would refer to Height as a god mother-like figure and heroic individual to countless Americans throughout the campaign of the civil rights movements. Obama also went on to state that Height was the only woman performing up to her standard during the course of the civil rights movement and was present to witness every march and significant milestone along her path.[4] She attended the National Black Family Reunion that was celebrated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., every year until her death in 2010.[23]

Life and death[edit]

According to a family history DNA analysis performed by African Ancestry Inc.,[24] Height's maternal line has a root among the Temne people of modern-day Sierra Leone.[25] Dorothy Height never married and had no children. On March 25, 2010, Height was admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. for unspecified reasons. Height continued her spirit of protest even when faced with health complications as she was admitted to Howard University Hospital protesting unresolved speaking arrangements.[26] She died six weeks later, on April 20, 2010, at the age of 98. Her funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral on April 29, 2010 was attended by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as many other dignitaries and notable people.[27][deprecated source] She was later buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Colmar Manor, Maryland.[28] Shortly after the death of Height, congresswoman Eleanor Holmes and Mayor Vincent Gray would rename a historic postal office which also serves as the Smithsonian National Post Museum at 2 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast in Washington, D.C. The office would be renamed Dorothy I. Height Post Office in honor of Height and Black History Month. Height became the only African American woman to be placed on a federal building in Washington, D.C. The Dorothy I. Height Post Office is one of the most iconic and well known landmarks in the Washington, D.C. area as it brings in millions of visitors and tourists each year.[26]

Awards, honors and medals[edit]

“I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom. I want to be remembered as one who tried.” – Dorothy Height


External video
Dorothy Height's funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., April 29, 2010, C-SPAN
Presentation by Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir at the National Book Festival, October 9, 2004, C-SPAN
External video
Booknotes interview with Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir, August 3, 2003, C-SPAN
"Life and Career of Dorothy Height". July 20, 2001, C-SPAN
  1. ^ Grant, Lyndia (April 29, 2010). "Uncommon Height". Washington Informer.
  2. ^ "Dorothy Height". Biography.
  3. ^ a b c d Iovino, Jim (April 20, 2010). "Civil Rights Icon Dorothy Height Dies at 98". NBC Universal. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e Skutch, Jan. "Civil rights leader, beacon for black women Dorothy Height dies". Savannah Morning News. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  5. ^ Hine, Darlene Clark., William C. Hine, and Stanley Harrold. "Chapter 21." The African-American Odyssey Combined Edition. 5th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2010. 596. Web.
  6. ^ a b "Civil Rights Pioneer Honor 75 years after rejection Barnard College recognizes woman the school once barred because of admission limit for blacks". Newsday. June 4, 2004. p. A22.
  7. ^ "Dorothy Height was educator and activist organizer". Post-Tribune. February 16, 2003. p. A2. Archived from the original on October 29, 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  8. ^ Dr. Dorothy I. Height: Chair and President Emerita, National Council of Negro Women Archived June 18, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, National Council of Negro Women. 75th Anniversary. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  9. ^ "Obituaries: Dorothy Height". Fellowship New York.
  10. ^ a b c d "Dorothy I. Height". National Park Service. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  11. ^ Edelman, Marian (March 30, 2006). "Dorothy Height broadens our horizon". New York Beacon.
  12. ^ Spears, LaWanza (August 28, 1993). "Commitment to the Black Family: Dr. Dorothy Height". The Richmond Afro-American and the Richmond Planet.
  13. ^ a b Height, Dorothy (2003). Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir. New York: PublicAffairs Press. ISBN 978-1-58648-286-2.
  14. ^ Evans, Ben (April 20, 2010). "Dorothy Height, civil rights activist, dies at 98". Associated Press. Retrieved April 20, 2010.
  15. ^ Dillard, Benita (Spring 2006). "NAACP: Helping African Americans confront social injustices for more than a century". Black History Bulletin. 69 (1).
  16. ^ Farmer, James (1998). Lay Bare the Heart. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press. p. 215. ISBN 9780875651880. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
  17. ^ Harwell, Debbie. [Harwell, Debbie Z. "Wednesdays in Mississippi: Uniting Women Across Regional and Racial Lines, Summer 1964." The Journal of Southern History, vol. 76, no. 3, 2010, pp. 617-654. "Wednesdays in Mississippi: Uniting Women across Regional and Racial Lines, Summer 1964"] Check |url= value (help).
  18. ^ Height, Dorothy. (March 20, 1965). "A Woman's World," column. New York Amsterdam News, p. 8 ff.
  19. ^ "The Belmont Report", U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  20. ^ Woodley, Jenny (2017). Ma Is in the Park. Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies.
  21. ^ Morial, Marc. "Dorothy Height-an American treasure". Jackson Advocate.
  22. ^ Kathryn Cullen-DuPont (August 1, 2000). Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. Info base Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8160-4100-8. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  23. ^ Mr. Michael; Ms. C (2013). Why I Am So Proud to Be a Black Man: The Many Reasons to Uplift and Celebrate Our Uniqueness in the Universe. iUniverse. p. 165. ISBN 978-1475979299.
  24. ^ Haynes, V. Dion (September 10, 2006). "DNA test points to tribes of their past". Washington Post.
  25. ^ Dr. Height African Ancestry Reveal. on YouTube
  26. ^ a b "Norton's Black History Month Celebration Unveils Dorothy Height Post Office and Celebrates D.C.'s Congressional Protest in the Dorothy Height Tradition: Rep. Norton, Eleanor Holmes (D -DC) News Release". Congressional Documents and Publications. February 22, 2011.
  27. ^ "Dorothy Height, U.S. Civil Rights Leader, Buried". The Epoch Times. Archived from the original on September 13, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  28. ^ "Dorothy I. Height". National Park Service. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  29. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  30. ^ "The Heinz Awards :: Dorothy Height".
  31. ^ National Winners Archived November 24, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Jefferson Awards.
  32. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8.
  33. ^ "The 2009 Health Policy Heroes and Foremother Awards". Archived May 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine National Research Center for Women & Families. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  34. ^ The Southwester, June 2010.
  35. ^ Kashmira Gander (March 24, 2014). "Google Doodle US marks Dorothy Irene Height's birthday". The Independent. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  36. ^ Michael Cavna (March 24, 2014). "DOROTHY IRENE HEIGHT: 'Godmother of the civil-rights movement' was a portrait in powerful change. Google Doodle salutes her accordingly". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  37. ^ Charlotte Alter (March 24, 2014). "Google Doodle Honors Dorothy Height, Unsung Leader in Civil Rights and Women's Movements". Time. Retrieved March 25, 2014.
  38. ^ "2017".
External video
"Dorothy Height Oral History Interview" for the University of Virginia's "Explorations in Black Leadership" project, December 9, 2003, C-SPAN
External video
Booknotes interview with Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir, August 3, 2003, C-SPAN
Presentation by Height on Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir at the National Book Festival, October 9, 2004, C-SPAN


External links[edit]