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American treasure: Dorothy Height

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by Marc Morial, Hudson Valley Online

This year’s State of Black America® report shines a much-needed spotlight on the struggles and triumphs of Black women. Too often invisible in mainstream society or depicted by demeaning stereotypes in “popular” culture, our women are at once the most oppressed and most resilient group in America.

Everyday, millions of African-American women work harder, earn less and shoulder the burdens of breadwinner and caregiver in their families. At the same time, many step up and stand out as leaders in their churches, schools, businesses and local communities. Lest we forget, it was Harriet Tubman who led us out of slavery and Rosa Parks who mortally wounded Jim Crow.

Today, I want to share my thoughts about Dorothy Height, a woman who has spent most of her 96 years on this earth standing on the front lines of freedom, not only for Black women, but for us all.

Currently the Chair and President Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), Dorothy Height has been committed to equality and justice for all since 1933. As a young woman, she became a civil rights worker with the United Christian Youth Movement of North America. A few years later, as an executive of the Harlem YWCA, she met Mary McLeod Bethune. Bethune took her under her wing, introduced her to Eleanor Roosevelt and recruited her as a NCNW volunteer.

Dorothy Height has been active in every stage of the modern civil rights and women’s rights struggles. She has taken her message of human rights and women’s empowerment to places like India, Mexico and Africa. In 1947 she was elected National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and for a decade, led the organization into a new era of activism. She was elected president of NCNW in 1957 and served as its leader until 1998 when she became Chair and President Emerita.

She was one of a few women who stood with men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Whitney M. Young, Jr. at the height of the civil rights movement and she was on the platform when Dr. King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. For her many outstanding achievements, Dorothy Height has been honored by presidents and peers. She is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the NAACP Springarn Medal and the Congressional Gold Medal, just to name a few.

At the tender age of 96, Dorothy Height is still a powerful voice for Black women. As she writes in the foreword to the State of Black America 2008, “Who better than us understand and empathize with the very real challenges that our brothers, fathers, husbands and sons face…and who better than us can understand the very real boundaries that all women face in navigating a cultural dynamic that still assigns roles and oftentimes limitations based on gender…With no apologies, the time is now to finally focus on us.”

Dorothy Height is an American treasure and I am proud to call her my friend.


Written by Symphony

September 6, 2008 at 7:15 am

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