Dorothy Height was the first to address the rights of women and African American as President of the National Council of Negro Women. In the 1990s, she drew young people to her cause in the war against drugs, illiteracy, and unemployment. She received numerous decorations, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994) and the Congressional Gold Medal (2004).
Born March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Virginia, the African-American activist Dorothy Height has spent her life fighting for civil and women’s rights. She was the daughter of a building contractor and a nurse. Dorothy Height moved to Rankin, Pennsylvania, in her youth with her family. She attended racially integrated schools there.
In high school, Dorothy Height showed great talent as a speaker. She also became socially and politically active, participating in anti-lynching campaigns. Her skills as a speaker led her to a national speech competition. By winning the event, she received a university scholarship.
Dorothy Height applied and was accepted to Barnard College in New York, but as school approached, the university changed its mind on admission, telling Height that they had already reached their student quota of black. Undefeated, she applied to New York University, where she obtained two degrees: a bachelor’s degree in 1930 and a master’s degree in psychology in 1932.
After working as a social worker for a while, Dorothy Height joined the staff of the YWCA in Harlem in 1937. She had a life-changing meeting soon after she started working there.
Dorothy Height met the educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, Mary McLeod Bethune, when Bethune and the First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, came to visit her facility.
Dorothy Height quickly volunteered for NCNW and became close to Bethune.
One of Dorothy Height’s main accomplishments at the YWCA was the integration of all of its centers in 1946. She also founded its Center for Racial Justice in 1965, which she operated until 1977. In 1957, Height became president of the National Black Council of Women. Thanks to the center and the council, she has become one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement. Dorothy Height has collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philipp Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, John Lewis, and James Farmer, sometimes called the “Big Six” civil rights movements, in various campaigns and initiatives.
In 1963 Dorothy Height was one of the organizers of the famous “March on Washington.” She was standing next to King when he gave his “I have a dream” speech. Despite her ability as a speaker and a leader, Height was not invited to speak that day.
Height wrote later that the March on Washington event was an eye-opener experience for her.
Her male colleagues “gladly included women in the human family, but there is no question who ran the household” she said, the Los Angeles Times reported. Height has been involved in the fight for women’s rights. In 1971, she helped pioneer the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Stein, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm.
While retiring from the YWCA in 1977, Height continued to run the NCNW for two more decades.
One of her next projects focused on strengthening the African American family. In 1986, Height organized the first black family reunion, a celebration of traditions and values that continues today.
Dorothy Height has received numerous awards for its contribution to society. In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal for Freedom. She resigned as president of NCNW in the late 1990s but remained president of the organization’s board of directors until her death in 2010. In 2002, Height turned her 90th birthday into a fundraiser for NCNW. Oprah Winfrey and Don King were among the celebrities who contributed to the event.
In 2004, President George W. Bush awarded her the Congressional gold medal. Later, she befriended the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Obama, who called her “the godmother of the civil rights movement,” reported the New York Times. Height died in Washington, D.C., on April 20, 2010.
Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among the many who mourned the death of the famous advocate for equality and justice. Clinton told the Washington Post that Height “understands that women’s rights and civil rights are indivisible. She has stood up for women’s rights every time.”
On February 1, 2017, the United States Postal Service started Black History Month by issuing the Dorothy Height Forever stamp in honor of its civil rights legacy.
Dorothy Height has traveled extensively, including India, where she taught for several months, Haiti and England. He has served on numerous committees on the rights of women and civilians. She once said:
“We are not problem people, but; we are people with problems. We have historic strength; we have survived, thanks to family.”
In 1986 Dorothy Height became convinced that negative images of black family life were a significant problem. As a result, she founded the annual Black Family Meeting, an annual national festival.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Freedom. When Dorothy Height retired from the presidency of NCNW, she remained President Emeritus. She wrote her memoirs’ Open Doors of Freedom’ in 2003. Throughout her life, Dorothy Height has received numerous awards, including three dozen honorary doctorates.