The Godmother of the Civil Rights movement, as Dorothy Irene Height is known, turned 98 this last week. She spent her birthday in the hospital, in critical but stable condition. News of her condition has traveled around the web, resulting in her name trending to number 1 in the United States on Twitter today as fans expressed condolences in the wake of a rumor that she had died. No official word has been released of her death at the time of publication.
Dorothy Height dedicated her life to civil rights causes for African Americans and women. She was born in 1912 in Richmond, VA, but spent most of her childhood near Pittsburgh, PA. She attended university in New York, receiving a Bachelor and a Master Degree in four years. In 1933 she became involved with and made a name for herself in the United Christian Youth Movement (UCYM), working to end lynching, integrate the Armed Services, and reform the criminal justice system. She also began to work during this time with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), a relationship she would foster for the rest of her working life.
Her association with The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) began in 1937 after she met Mary McLeod Bethune, probably the most influential African American woman at the time. Bethune was president of the NCNW, and persuaded Height to join her group. Thereafter Height dedicated her time to a number of projects involving the NCNW and YWCA. In 1957 she was elected President of the NCNW, a post she held until 1998, when she became the Chair and President Emerita of the organization.
By 1960 Height was named the team leader for women’s issues on the United Civil Rights Leadership council, where she served with Martin Luther King, Jr. There she worked to make the goals of the NCNW part of the Civil Rights movement. She shared the stage with King during his “I Have a Dream” speech, and after the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act, worked to empower and desegregate women in the south. In that effort, she worked with Polly Cowan, a Jewish civil rights activist.
There is much more to learn about Dorothy Height, as she worked her entire life tirelessly for the benefit of others. I hope readers take some time to check out those links on her, and on the other women linked in this post whose life she touched. Her life stands as a powerful testament to what dedication and focus can do. The world will certainly lose her before long, and with her, a part of our living history.
Note: This article has been cross-posted to The New Agenda.