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{April 21, 2010}  

TRIBUTE TO DOROTHY HEIGHT

Dorothy Height was an African American administrator, educator, and social activist. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

Height was born in Richmond, Virginia. At an early age, she moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania. Height was admitted to Barnard College in 1929, but upon arrival, she was denied entrance because the school had an unwritten policy of admitting only two black students per year.  She pursued studies instead at New York University, earning a degree in 1932, and a master’s degree in educational psychology the following year.

Height started working as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department and, at the age of twenty-five, she began a career as a civil rights activist when she joined the National Council of Negro Women. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women, and in 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. She also served as National President of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority Incorporated from 1946 to 1957. She remained active with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority thoughtout her life. While there she developed leadership training programs and interracial and ecumenical education programs.

In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Height organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi, which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding.

American leaders regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Height also 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, Height wrote a column entitled “A Woman’s Word” for the weekly African-American newspaper, the New York Amsterdam News and her first column appeared in the March 20, 1965 issue on page 8.

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, Height was named to the National Council for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published The Belmont Report, a response to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphillis Study” and an international ethical touchstone for researchers to this day.

n 2004, Height was recognized by Barnard for her achievements as an honorary alumna during its commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The musical stage play If This Hat Could Talk, based on her memoirs Open Wide The Freedom Gates, debuted in the middle of 2005. It 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 organization in the USA. She was an honored guest and seated on stage at the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.

She attended the National Black Family Reunion, celebrated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., every year until her death in 2010.

On March 25, 2010 Height was admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. for unspecified reasons. Her spokeswoman issued a statement stating that at that time she was in a “very serious, but stable” condition but that they were remaining optimistic about her recovery. On April 20, 2010, Height died at the age of ninety-eight.

Dorothy Height was a Largely Unsung Giant of the Civil Rights Era! She was a leader of the African American and women’s rights movements. I am thankful for her and humbled by her! Rest in Peace.

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