In Memoriam: Dorothy Height, March 24, 1912 - April 20, 2010

Carolyn Leighton

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Please take a moment to join me in remembering a great woman who died yesterday, at the age of 98, Dr. Dorothy Height - a passionate advocate for civil rights and women who stands as a role model and source of inspiration for everyone who believes that we are here to make a positive difference in the world.

Dr. Height made a decision early in life, that she wanted to spend her life dedicated to the pursuit of equality and justice - especially for African Americans and for women.

Dorothy Irene Height, was a pioneer of the civil rights movement whose activism stretched from the New Deal to the election of President Barack Obama, "Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality ... and served as the only woman at the highest level of the civil rights movement - witnessing every march and milestone along the way," Obama said.

Height received two of the nation's highest honors: the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

In awarding the congressional medal, then-President George W. Bush noted that Height had met with every U.S. president since Eisenhower, and "she's told every president what she thinks since Dwight David Eisenhower."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, in a joint statement, said, "Our nation is poorer for her loss but infinitely richer for the life she led, the progress she achieved and the people she touched."

Height was born in Richmond, Va., before women could vote and when blacks had few rights. Her family moved to the Pittsburgh area when she was 4. Distinguishing herself in the classroom, she was accepted to Barnard College but then turned away because the school already had reached its quota of two black women. She went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from New York University.

As a teenager, Height marched in New York's Times Square shouting, "Stop the lynching." After earning her degrees, she became a leader of the Harlem YWCA and the United Christian Youth Movement of North America, where she pushed to prevent lynching, desegregate the armed forces and reform the criminal justice system.

She traveled to Holland and England as a U.S. delegate to youth and church conferences, and in 1938 was one of 10 young people chosen by Eleanor Roosevelt to spend a weekend at the first lady's Hyde Park, N.Y., home preparing for a World Youth Conference at Vassar College.

In the 1950s and 1960s, she was the leading woman helping King and other activists orchestrate the civil rights movement, often reminding the men heading not to underestimate their female counterparts.

Height was on the platform at the Lincoln Memorial, sitting only a few feet from King, when he gave his famous "I have a dream" speech at the March on Washington in 1963.

She developed programs such as "pig banks" to help poor rural families raise their own livestock, and "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.

Dr. Height stands as a role model for all of us and inspires each of us to use our life, our knowledge, our energy to take a stand and commit to a life that leaves a positive legacy for the next generation!

Carolyn Leighton, Founder/Chairwoman, WITI