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Remembering Dr. Dorothy Height

WI Staff Reporter | 4/21/2010, 9:22 a.m.

Civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy Height passed away early Tuesday morning, April 20, at the age of 98. Height died of natural causes, according to a spokesperson from Howard University Hospital. Upon learning of her death, friends and admirers offered words of sadness and inspiration for Dr. Height whose life was dedicated to service on behalf of women and children.

President Barack Obama, who referred to Dr. Height as €the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans,€ reflected on her early years when she was denied entrance to college because the incoming class had already met its quota of two African American women, he wrote in a statement. €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.€

Height served as the President of the National Council of Negro Women for four decades, stepping down from the position in 1997. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 by President Bill Clinton and in 2004, she was bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal.

Height fought for equal rights for both women and blacks, and was active in such causes as securing voting rights, equal employment opportunities and the desegregation of public schools. She marched with Dr, Martin Luther King Jr., and spoke out for women€s rights during the civil rights struggle. She was instrumental in the fight for equal pay for women and organized numerous programs designed to help women achieve equal rights and independence. During her years as President of the National Council of Negro Women, Height was dedicated to issues that affected women, including child care for working mothers, health and nutrition and providing adequate housing for families in need.

€I am a child of the civil rights movement,€ Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, wrote in her statement. €My friend and mentor Dorothy Height lived the longest and most productive life of leadership for civil rights and women€s rights in our history. She became a guiding force in her persona for generations of Americans like me, seeking equal rights for people of color and for women.

€Dorothy seemed to know how important her continuing participation and presence was for the many causes she championed because she continued to speak and attend events until she was admitted, under protest, to Howard University Hospital where she died this morning. Dorothy Height was a woman of immense grace and elegance, but she did not go quietly. She lived as an activist until the very end of her life, for the great causes that bear her signature,€ Norton said.

€Men and women of every race and faith are heirs to the work, passion, and legacy of Dr. Dorothy I. Height,€ said Speaker Nancy Pelosi €In every fight, Dr. Height turned the tides of history toward progress. Today, we live in an America that Dorothy Height helped to shape €" a nation defined by equality, shaped by civil rights, and driven by the pursuit of justice for all.

€Dr. Dorothy I. Height was the beloved matriarch of the civil rights movement,€ stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. €The nation has lost a stalwart champion for civil rights and gender equality. With perseverance and strong determination Dr. Height broke through the proverbial glass ceiling as the only woman working side by side with the €Big Six€ to secure civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 60s. Today, we have lost a strong voice and champion for women and children. Her lasting contributions will live on through the lives of those she touched and mentored,€ added Brock.
As president of the National Council of Negro Women, Dr. Dorothy Height fought for the rights and needs of women and children living in the U.S. and abroad. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Roslyn, hosted Height and an international group of women and children at a press conference at the White House. Courtesy Photo
€I was introduced to the legacy of Dr. Dorothy Height through my 93 year-old grandmother, who considered Dr. Height one of her heroes,€ stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. €Dr. Height was a tireless and committed fighter for civil rights. Despite being in poor health, she joined the NAACP late last year in our health care war room to advocate for health care reform.€

€The defining legacy of Dr. Height will be the countless individuals she inspired and mentored into positions of great leadership,€ Jealous said. €She will be most remembered for what she did to encourage women to reach greater levels of achievement, but the truth is that she also guided and mentored the ambition to service and contributions of thousands of men. Her passion for a just society and her vision for a better world inspires us all.€

Height was born in Richmond, Va. on March 24, 1912 and grew up in Rankin. Pa. Height attended New York University where she earned a master€s degree in educational psychology. She began her career working for the Welfare Department in New York, and subsequently became involved in the civil rights movement after meeting Adam Clayton Powell Sr., the well known former pastor of the Abyssinian Church in Harlem.

Height came to Washington D.C. and worked for the Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YWCA, and eventually became the Director of the YWCA€s Center for Racial Justice. Height also became the national president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority in 1947 until 1957, when she became president of the National Council of Negro Women.
€Dr. Height never saw a mountain she could not overcome, from being denied entry to Barnard College to achieving a master€s degree in psychology at NYU and lobbying President Kennedy to sign the Equal Pay Act in 1963. She was the matriarch of the civil rights movement, and will be greatly missed,€ added NAACP Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond.

NAACP Chairman Emeritus Myrlie Evers-Williams reflected: €I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend Dr. Dorothy Height. I recall her formidable presence when she spoke during the funeral of my husband Medgar. She spoke earnestly about the civil rights struggle and how the conditions affected young people, especially about their treatment at the hands of law enforcement. Hers was a steady, loving influence on all of us involved in the struggle for justice and equality. She was a woman of great drive who never lost sight of the goal of equal rights and human rights for all Americans, particularly women.€

During her long and distinguished career, Height served on the advisory council of the White House Initiative on historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as the National Council on Aging and was the recipient of 36 honorary degrees.

€Dr. Height had a prominent presence in the District of Columbia, as the organization€s headquarters is located on Pennsylvania Avenue,€ said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray. €Moreover, hundreds of thousands of District residents have enjoyed NCNW€s Black Family Reunion on the National Mall each year. I am grateful for Dr. Height€s active support of many local causes, organizations and individuals. This past September, the Council of the District of Columbia honored Dr. Height with a resolution that recognized her lifetime of achievements. Today we reiterated our appreciation for her work.€

Funeral services for Dr. Dorothy I. Height, chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), who passed earlier this week, will take place in Washington, D.C. beginning Tuesday, April 27 and end with funeral services at Washington National Cathedral on Thursday, April 29, according to former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, who is overseeing the arrangements.

Burial services will be held at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Maryland. Dr. Height passed away on Tuesday, April 20, at the age of 98.

Tuesday, April 27
6:00 €" 10:00 p.m. --- Dr. Height will lie in repose at the NCNW Dorothy I. Height building for a public viewing.

Wednesday, April 28
2:00 p.m. --- The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority will conduct a public Omega Omega Service at Howard University. Dr. Height served as national president of the sorority in 1947.

7:00 p.m. --- A €Community Celebration of Life€ memorial will be held at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. The memorial is open to the public.

Thursday, April 29

10:00 a.m. --- A funeral service will be conducted at Washington National Cathedral and is open to the public. The burial service will follow at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Maryland.