Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Founding Matriarch of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 98

Posted by: BuellBoy and Audiegrl

Washington Post/Bart Barnes~Dr. Dorothy I. Height, 98, a founding matriarch of the American civil rights movement whose crusade for racial justice and gender equality spanned more than six decades, died early Tuesday morning of natural causes, a spokesperson for the National Council of Negro Women said.

Ms. Height was among the coalition of African American leaders who pushed civil rights to the center of the American political stage after World War II, and she was a key figure in the struggles for school desegregation, voting rights, employment opportunities and public accommodations in the 1950s and 1960s.

She died at 3:41 a.m. at Howard University Hospital, a spokesman there said.

Ms. Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, relinquishing the title in 1997. The 4 million-member advocacy group consists of 34 national and 250 community-based organizations. It was founded in 1935 by educator Mary McLeod Bethune, who was one of Ms. Height’s mentors.

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.

Ms. Height was arguably the most influential woman at the top levels of civil rights leadership, but she never drew the major media attention that conferred celebrity and instant recognition on some of the other civil rights leaders of her time.

In this Aug. 28, 1963 photo, Dorothy Height, right, listens as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gestures during his I Have a Dream speech as he addresses thousands of civil rights supporters gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

In August 1963, Ms. Height was on the platform with King when he delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. But she would say later that she was disappointed that no one advocating women’s rights spoke that day at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Less than a month later, at King’s request, she went to Birmingham, Ala., to minister to the families of four black girls who had died in a church bombing linked to the racial strife that had engulfed the city.

“At every major effort for social progressive change, Dorothy Height has been there,” Lewis said in 1997 when Ms. Height announced her retirement as president of the National Council of Negro Women.

Early Champion for Women’s Rights

As a champion of social justice, Ms. Height was best known during the early years of her career for her struggles to overcome racial prejudice.

Dr. Height watches President John F. Kennedy sign the Equal Pay Act on June 10, 1963 in a ceremony at the White House. The bill was aimed at assuring women of paychecks equal to those of men doing the same work.

She was also energetic in her efforts to overcome gender bias, and much of that work predated the women’s rights movement. When President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, Ms. Height was among those invited to the White House to witness the ceremony. She returned to the White House in 1998 for a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of that legislation to hear Clinton urge passage of additional laws aimed at equalizing pay for men and women.

“Dorothy Height deserves credit for helping black women understand that you had to be feminist at the same time you were African . . . that you had to play more than one role in the empowerment of black people,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) once said.

As president of the National Council of Negro Women, Ms. Height was instrumental in organizing and sponsoring programs that emphasized self-help and self-reliance.

In 2003 President Bush presented Dr. Dorothy Height with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor. Dr. Height is recognized as one of the preeminent social and civil rights activists of the 20th century. Mayor Anthony Williams attended the ceremony. Senator Hillary Clinton, former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, Senator Carl Levin and Representative Diane Watson were also present.

Those included nutrition, child care, housing and career counseling. In response to a public TV program, “The Vanishing Black Family,” Ms. Height helped create and organize the Black Family Reunion Celebration, which has been held on the Mall and in cities across the country annually since 1985. The gatherings are intended to honor the traditions, strength and history of African American families while seeking solutions to such social problems as teen pregnancy and drug abuse.

“The reunion is as important today as some of our marches were in the past,” Ms. Height said in 1992.

In 1995, Ms. Height was among the few women to speak at the Million Man March on the Mall, which was led by Louis Farrakhan, the chief minister of the Nation of Islam. “I am here because you are here,” she declared. Two years later, at 85, she sat at the podium all day, in the whipping wind and chill rain, at the Million Woman March in Philadelphia.

Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir by Dr. Dorothy I. Height“She was a dynamic woman with a resilient spirit, who was a role model for women and men of all faiths, races and perspectives. For her, it wasn’t about the many years of her life, but what she did with them,” said former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman, a close friend who has been running day-to-day operations at the National Council.

Herman called Ms. Height “a national treasure who lived life abundantly. She will be greatly missed, not only by those of us who knew her well, but by the countless beneficiaries of her enduring legacy.”

More @

Dorothy I. Height Congressional Medal

President George W. Bush presented the congressional gold medal to Dr. Dorothy I. Height in 2003. The medal honored her for a lifetime of work helping people exercise their civil rights. She was president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1958 until she retired in 1998. She worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders throughout the 1960s. She also received the Citizens Medal Award from President Ronald Reagan in 1989 and the Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1994.

The congressional gold medal was awarded to Dr. Height in recognition of “her many contributions to the Nation.” The medal is inscribed with her words: “We African-American women seldom do just what we want to do, but always do what we have to do. I am grateful to have been in a time and place where I could be a part of what was needed.”

The Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement

Dr. Dorothy I. Height, 1912 - 2010, RIP

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle joined the rest of the nation in mourning Dr. Dorothy Height:

“Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Dorothy Height – the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans. 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.~President Barack Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama greets Dr. Dorothy Height following her remarks on health care legislation at the White House complex September 18, 2009 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)


President Barack Obama kisses Dr. Dorothy Height during a meeting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. President Obama met with a group of African American seniors and their grandchildren on the legacy of the civil rights movement January 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Vodpod videos no longer available. Vodpod videos no longer available.
The 2008 video above, is one of a series of videos of civil rights leaders discussing the importance of Brown v. Board of Education and its impact on the country, focusing on the progress America has made, and the challenges we still face to truly realize the dream of Brown by providing a quality education for all.

For more information, visit RealizeTheDream.org

Watch never-before-seen video of President Obama and “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” Dr. Dorothy Height, during a January intergenerational reflection on the civil rights movement at the White House. She recounts here her memories of meeting one 15 year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Height passed away on April 20, 2010 at the age of 98.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Wednesdays in Misssissippi~a documentary film

In the summer of 1964 a quiet revolution began in Mississippi when a group of Black and White women reached across the chasm of race, class, geography, and religion to end segregation in America. This quiet revolution was called “Wednesdays in Mississippi.” The story of these brave women has never been told. It is a story of courage, danger, and transformation. The one hour documentary film WEDNESDAYS IN MISSISSIPPI will finally tell their story.

The only civil rights project run by a national women’s organization, “Wednesdays in Mississippi” (WIMS) was the brainchild of National Council of Negro Women President, Dorothy Height and her close friend, Polly Cowan. Their plan brought Black and White women from Northern cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago into Mississippi in 1964 during Freedom Summer.

Each week, both interracial and interfaith teams of women known as “Wednesdays Women” traveled to Mississippi on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, the women brought supplies and much needed support to small rural communities. There, local Black citizens and young civil rights workers from the North faced daily violence and constant harassment as they worked side by side to end legalized segregation. The women experienced first hand the devastating results of racial injustice, but also witnessed the hope and promise of change.

However, it was on Thursdays that the quiet revolution took root. This was when the “Wednesdays Women” put on their white gloves and pearls and secretly met with Black and White Mississippi women. In living rooms over tea and cookies the Southern women openly discussed their fears and suspicions about the civil rights movement. Many, for the first time, voiced their support for change. At that time in Mississippi, mixing with outsiders had dire consequences. Yet the women came, they listened and their hearts and minds began to open. Their clandestine meetings became the catalyst for great change.

In 1965, the Southern women invited the Northern women back to Mississippi. This groundbreaking alliance between Black and White women from the North and South continued until 1967. Working together, the women started economic, health and educational programs, including the well known Fannie Lou Hamer Daycare center, which continues to thrive today.

The film, WEDNESDAYS IN MISSISSIPPI will show how the lives of these women were enriched and transformed by doing what Dorothy Height called, “women’s work…the work of making connections and building community.” At last, the legacy of these courageous women will be shared.

Film information courtesy of Wednesdays in Mississippi

Learn more about the film, how you can show your support it, and about the filmmakers.

Learn more about Wednesdays in Mississippi: Civil Rights as Women’s Work: An Exhibit Website


President Obama, First Lady Michelle and Mourners Attend Dr. Dorothy I. Height Funeral on April 29, 2010

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8 Comments

Filed under African-Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Uncategorized, Women's Issues

8 responses to “Dr. Dorothy I. Height, Founding Matriarch of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 98

  1. ogenec

    Thanks BB and AG for this wonderful tribute!!!

  2. Pingback: Dr. Dorothy I. Height , Founding Matriarch of Civil Rights Movement … « When Will New Moon Come Out in Theaters

  3. What a beautiful and heroic woman. The god-mother of the civil rights movement, or the Queen? Both, I think.

    You might be interested to know that a documentary film is being made about Dr. Height and her 1963 activist project called Wednesdays In Mississippi. Dr Height believed in women as agents of change, and this interracial, interfaith women’s activist civil rights group has a very compelling and important story.

    You can check out the website at:

    http://wimsfilmproject.com/

    Check it out at:

  4. Pingback: Unseen Footage: Dr. Dorothy I. Height with President Obama and First Lady Michelle at the White House « 44-D

  5. Hello! I was interested to know if setting up a web site such your own: http://the44diaries.
    wordpress.com/2010/04/20/dr-dorothy-i-height-founding-matriarch-of-civil-rights-movement-dies-at-98/ is difficult to do for inexperienced people?

    I have been hoping to create my own website for a while now but have been turned off because I’ve always believed it required tons of work. What do you think? Thankyou

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