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  • S. Dani

Dorothy Height

Dubbed the “Grandmother of The Civil Rights Movement” by former President Barack Obama, Dorothy Height was born March 24, 1912 in Richmond Virginia. At the young age of 5 her family moved to Rankin Pennsylvania where she spent the majority of her early child hood. In 1929 Height received a scholarship and decided to attend Barnard College but once she arrived she was denied entrance because the school had an unwritten policy of admitting only two black students per year. This led Height to attend New York University, where she earned an undergraduate degree and went on to pursue a master’s degree in educational psychology. At the age of 25, she began a career as a civil rights activist, joining the National Council of Negro Women. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women. In 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. She was also an active member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She focused on issues such as developing leadership training programs and ecumenical education programs. She was initiated at Rho Chapter at Columbia University and she served as national president of the sorority from 1947 to 1956.

In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the Civil Rights Movement, 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 the press frequently ignored her role because she was a woman.

In the mid-1960s, she wrote a column called “ A Woman’s Word” for the weekly African-American newspaper the New York Amsterdam News. 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 “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” which is a study that was started in 1932 by the Public Health Service, and Tuskegee Institute, to record the natural history of syphilis in hopes of justifying treatment programs for blacks.

In 1990, Height, along with 15 other African Americans, formed the African American Women For Reproductive Freedom. Barnard recognized height for her achievements as an honorary alumna during the college's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 2004. Height was the chairperson of the Executive Committee of the “Leadership Conference on Civil Rights,” the largest civil rights for women's rights organization in the USA. Sadly on April 20, 2010 at the age of 98, Height passed away.

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