Dorothy Height Dies at Age 98

Civil and women's rights leader leaves proud legacy of excellence in activism

President Barack Obama kisses Dr. Dorothy Height during a meeting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 18, 2010. President Obama met with a group of African American seniors and their grandchildren on the legacy of the civil rights movement. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

President Barack Obama kisses Dorothy I. Height during a meeting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, 2010. (Source: White House)

Height remained active during her later years, conducting interviews and attending several events a month in her 90s until she was admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C. for fatigue March 22. One of her last events was the International Women’s Day reception at the White House March 9.

Dorothy Height was born March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Virginia to James Edward Height, a building contractor, and Fannie Borroughs Height, a nurse.

Raised in Rankin, Pennsylvania, Height was exposed to injustice early in her life when she was turned away from Barnard College in 1929 when the school informed her that the two positions set aside for black students had been filled. Fortunately, she found a home at New York University and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four years.

At NYU, she became a leader of the United Christian Youth Movement of North America and became passionate about preventing lynchings, desegregating the armed forces, and reforming the criminal justice system.

In 1937, while serving as assistant executive director of the Harlem YWCA, Height met her future mentor Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women. Height accepted Bethune’s invitation to join the NCNW, and in 1957 Height was elected the fourth national president of the organization, a title she held until 1998 when she became chair and president emeritus.

“She was such a dynamic woman. She was someone who was a role model for men and women of all faiths, races, and perspectives. Her hope was to always continue the work that Mary McLeod Bethune started,” said former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman, Height’s good friend. “For her it really wasn’t about the many years of her life, but what she did with them. … So she believed in making every day count. That is what she did with her entire life.”

Height worked double time, volunteering for the NCNW while working at the YWCA. She ascended the ranks of the YWCA and held several leadership positions, including director of the National YWCA School for Professional Worker, and served on staff of the National Board of the YWCA of the USA for 33 years.

“No one served longer and stronger or with more persistence than Dorothy Height,” said civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, the president of the National Action Network. “Whether it was marching in the streets with Dr. King, helping further education with Mary McLeod Bethune, or by mentoring a new generation of freedom fighters, Dr. Height was a hero in civil rights and social justice.”

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