Dead, Dorothy Irene Height on April 20, 2010 at the age of 98, she was an American administrator and educator, was a civil rights and women’s rights activist specifically focused on the issues of African-American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness.
Born in Richmond, Virginia March 24, 1912, during childhood, she moved with her family to Idaho, Pennsylvania, a steel town in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where she graduated from Rankin High School in 1929.
Height received a scholarship from the Elks, which helped her to attend college.
She was admitted to Barnard College in 1929, but upon arrival was denied entrance because the school had an unwritten policy of admitting only two black students per year.
In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997.
During the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, she organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” which brought together black and white women from the North and South to create a dialogue of understanding.
Height was also a founding member of the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership.
In his autobiography, civil rights leader James Farmer described Height as one of the “Big Six” of the civil rights movement, but noted that her role was frequently ignored by the press due to sexism.
In 1963, Ms. Height sat on the platform an arm’s length from Dr. King as he delivered his epochal “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington.
She was one of the march’s chief organizers and a prize-winning orator herself. Yet she was not asked to speak, although many other black leaders — all men — addressed the crowd that day.
Height recounted the incident in her memoir, “Open Wide the Freedom Gates” (PublicAffairs, 2003; with a foreword by Maya Angelou). Reviewing the memoir, The New York Times Book Review called it “a poignant short course in a century of African-American history.”
Height served on a number of committees, including as a consultant on African affairs to the Secretary of State, the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, and the President’s Committee on the Status of Women.
In 1974, she was named to the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which published the Belmont Report a response to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” and an international ethical touchstone for researchers to this day.
While she retired from the YWCA in 1977, Height continued to run the NCNW for two more decades.
One of her later projects was focused on strengthening the African-American family. In 1986, Height organized the first Black Family Reunion, a celebration of traditions and values. The event is still held annually.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She stepped down from the presidency of the NCNW in the late 1990s, but remained the organization’s chair of the board until her death in 2010.
In 2002, Height turned her 90th birthday celebration into a fundraiser for the NCNW; Oprah Winfrey and Don King were among the celebrities who contributed to the event.