Dorothy Height, Civil Rights Hero, Dies

April 20, 2010
Dorothy Height, a trailblazing civil rights figure, died today, at the age of 98. The Associated Press said she was "the leading female voice of the 1960s civil rights movement and a participant in historic marches with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others ...," and The Washington Post remembered her as "a founding matriarch of the American civil rights movement whose crusade for racial justice and gender equality spanned more than six decades ...."

In a press statement, President Obama called Height "the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans.

Obama continued:

Ever since she was denied entrance to college because the incoming class had already met its quota of two African American women, Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality. She led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, and served as the only woman at the highest level of the Civil Rights Movement - witnessing every march and milestone along the way. And even in the final weeks of her life - a time when anyone else would have enjoyed their well-earned rest - Dr. Height continued her fight to make our nation a more open and inclusive place for people of every race, gender, background and faith. Michelle and I offer our condolences to all those who knew and loved Dr. Height - and all those whose lives she touched.

The Washington Post's Bart Barnes wrote:

As a civil rights activist, Ms. Height participated in protests in Harlem during the 1930s. In the 1940s, she lobbied first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on behalf of civil rights causes. And in the 1950s, she prodded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to move more aggressively on school desegregation issues. In 1994, Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor."


In the turmoil of the civil rights struggles in the 1960s, Ms. Height helped orchestrate strategy with movement leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Whitney Young, James Farmer, Bayard Rustin and John Lewis, who later served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia.

In a press statement, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson said:

It is with a heavy heart that I mourn the passing of our chairperson, Dr. Doroth I. Height. For the past seven decades, her work and her wisdom have enriched and ennobled the civil rights movement and our nation.

Dr. Height has been an extraordinary leader, a gifted organizer, a trusted adviser, and a shrewd strategist from the days of the New Deal to these times of the Raw Deal for so many Americans. She was at every important meeting, participated in every historic struggle, and advised major national leaders from Eleanor Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

Henderson's full statement is here. A a blog post from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is here

Both The Post and Associated Press noted, one of Height's famous sayings, "If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time." In a 1997 interview with the news service, Height said the civil rights movement had seen progress, but much had yet to be accomplished.

"We have come a long way, but too many people are not better off," Height said. "This is my life's work. It is NOT a job."

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