She was a civil rights champion who went where few women had gone before. Dr Dorothy Height died Tuesday but she leaves behind a legacy that will live on forever.
For more than a generation, Dr. Dorothy Height has been on the front lines of the struggle for equality. Much of her 98 years has been spent giving voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. "She found traction with people of every race, creed, and color, civil rights pioneer and former congressman Walter Fauntroy tells BET News."She focused on in her spiritual maturity the people with the least of these; the least of income, education, health care, housing and justice."
More: Remembering Dorothy Height
The Richmond, Virginia native became a leader in the United Christian Youth Movement of North America in 1933. There, she spoke out against lynching, segregation, and racial injustice around the country. With her roots firmly planted in the civil rights movement, the budding activist caught the attention of National Council of Negro Women founder, Mary McLeod Bethune. Rev. Fauntroy says, "There's an African Proverb describing why we have respect for our ancestors: it simply says we are because they were and she knew that she was because of Mary McLeod Bethune. And she attempts to be for the young today what Mary McLeod Bethune was to her.." Height would spend the remainder of her life working with NCNW: first as a foot soldier, then as its president and chair.
In 1960, Height was a leader in the United Civil Rights leadership: the only woman standing alongside legends like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, A. Phillip Randolph and John Lewis. Longtime friend and admirer, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton believes women everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Height. Holmes says, "The Women's Rights Movement came on the heels of the Civil Rights movement. Only a few African American women led the way." It was not easy for Dr. Height to be the sole female voice in the all-male group of civil rights champions. Rev. Fauntroy recalls, "I have a picture of all of us at The White House on July 2, 1964 when they were signing the civil rights bill and you can see Dorothy Height in the audience but not up front with the men of the movement. I didn't like it and I guess I spent the rest of my life apologizing to her for the trifflingness of black men who told her not to stand."
Dr. Heights reach extended beyond gender equality issues to include the plight of underserved people everywhere. From the bus boycotts of the past, to the more recent Million Man March, Dr. Height has been a fixture in the movement. We are building on what we put into the Civil Rights Movement," Dr. Height said during our last conversation in the spring.
Dr. Height wrote about her journey in her autobiography " Open Wide the Freedom Gates," detailing the story of a young activist who would go on to receive the highest civilian honor in the nation, The 2004 Congressional Medal of Freedom. Dr. Height once said, "Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes in his life but by the opposition he faces to achieve his goals." While we will never again hear Dr. Height say those inspirational words, there's little doubt that her her impression is eternal. Dorothy Height was 98 years old.