“The Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement”

AP Photo by David Kohl

Yesterday we lost another important civil rights figure. Dorothy Irene Height, the leading woman helping Martin Luther King, Jr., and other activists of the 1950s and 1960s, died Tuesday. She was 98. 

The Associated Press describes Height’s work as stretching “from the New Deal to the election of Barack Obama.” In a statement to the AP, President Obama called Height  “the godmother of the civil rights movement” and a hero to Americans.

When King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Height was there only a few feet away from King. 

Height dedicated most of her adult life working for the rights of women through organizations like the National Council of Negro Women. Height took over the group in 1957 and led it until 1997, fighting for women’s rights on issues such as equal pay and education. She developed programs like “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” in which black and white women from the north traveled to Mississippi to meet with their Southern counterparts in an effort to ease racial tensions and bridge differences.

Height was born in Richmond, Va., at a time when blacks had few rights and women couldn’t vote. Her family moved to the Pittsburgh area when she was 4. An outstanding student, Height she was accepted to Barnard College but then turned away because the school already had reached its quota of two black women. She didn’t give up. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University.

In her lifetime, Height received two of the nation’s highest honors: the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. 



  1. She was a great woman and her legacy will live on forever. May she rest in peace.

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