(born March 24, 1912, Richmond, Va., U.S.) American civil and women’s rights activist, a widely respected and influential leader of organizations focused primarily on improving the circumstances of and opportunities for African-American women.
Reared in Rankin, Pennsylvania, Height graduated in 1933 from New York University with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in educational psychology. She was involved in social service for some six decades, four of them as president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), an umbrella organization that comprises civic, church, educational, labour, community, and professional groups. Her involvement with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) facilities for black women, dating to the 1930s, led to her advocacy of improved conditions for black domestic workers, to her election to national office within the YWCA, and to her involvement with that organization’s integration policy. In 1957 she became the fourth president of the NCNW, which she steered through the civil rights struggles of the 1960s by organizing voter registration in the South, voter education in the North, and scholarship programs for student civil rights workers. In the 1970s she helped the NCNW win grants to provide vocational training and assist women in opening businesses.
Height subsequently used her position to call on the black community to make itself more independent, placing special emphasis in the 1990s on drawing young people into the organization to join in the war against drugs, illiteracy, and unemployment. She has also served as a social services expert on local, state, and federal governmental committees concerned with women’s issues. Before retiring in 1996, she helped secure funding for a national headquarters for the NCNW in the historic Sears House in Washington, D.C., where the organization also housed its Dorothy I. Height Leadership Institute. The numerous honours bestowed upon her include the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1994).
Dorothy Height, the leading female voice of the 1960s civil rights movement, died at Howard University Hospital of an undisclosed illness. She was 98 years old. Hospital officials say Height had been held in serious condition at the hospital for several weeks before her death.
Height was the leading female figure in the civil rights movement, and a key organizer in the struggle for school desegregation and voting rights.
She was on the platform at the Lincoln Memorial during King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and was later a consultant for U.S. presidents and human rights leaders. She continued to speak out about women’s and civil rights well into her 90s.
In a statement, President Barack Obama called her “the godmother of the civil rights movement” and praised her devotion to those struggling for equality. ”Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality,” Obama said, “and served as the only woman at the highest level of the Civil Rights Movement—witnessing every march and milestone along the way.”