Dorothy Irene Height, the chair and president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), passed away Tuesday at Howard University Hospital. No cause of death was given. She was 98 years old. (Click here to see “Dorothy I. Height: Her Life In Pictures.”)
“Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Dorothy Height – the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “Even in the final weeks of her life – a time when anyone else would have enjoyed their well-earned rest – Dr. Height continued her fight to make our nation a more open and inclusive place for people of every race, gender, background, and faith.”
Under her calling card of colorful hats that coordinated with each of her stylish ensembles was one of America’s most treasured and triumphant civil rights leaders. “I think of life as a unity of circles. Some are concentric, others overlap, but they all connect in some way,” wrote Height in her autobiography Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir (Gale Group).
Height’s social and political circles were numerous and wide reaching as she, an influential player for social justice, civil rights, and women’s rights, connected with and uplifted several generations. Her prominence was such that the nation’s presidents and civil rights luminaries sought her council. In fact, she was the only female leader present at the table when Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney H. Young, A. Philip Randolph, and John Lewis began coordinating the March on Washington in 1960, according to her memoir.
“How can one pay adequate homage to Dorothy Height?” said Earl G. Graves Sr., founder and publisher of Black Enterprise. “One can’t really, but we are obliged to try because tribute must be paid to a woman such as this. Today, President Obama called her the ‘Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement,’ and that was by no means an understatement. She was a dream giver, an earth shaker, and a crusader for human rights who served as a catalyst for change at a time when few could take a stand.”
After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, she led the NCNW to start “Wednesday’s in Mississippi,” the only civil rights project run by a national women’s organization. While the goal was to bridge the divide between women of different race, class, and regional backgrounds, the workshops led the NCNW to successfully partner with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create Turnkey III Home Ownership for low-income families in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Height’s passion for social justice extended well beyond the United States. She traveled to England and Holland in her 20s as a representative for several Christian youth organizations. Later, under the Young Women’s Christian Association she studied the training of women’s organizations in five African countries and served as a visiting professor at the Delhi School of Social Work at University of Delhi in India.