The Legacy of Dorothy Height

Born in Richmond, Virginia March 24, 1912, Dorothy Irene Height became for many, an example of a life of service. In high school, she began her activism, participating in anti-lynching campaigns of the 1920s. After attending New York University and Columbia University, Height became a social workers and transformed that career into one as an activist for civil and women’s rights. While working for the Harlem YWCA, she met Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt. After moving to the National YWCA office, Dorothy led the integration efforts, seeing desegregation at all YWCA’s in 1946. The following year, she began her tenure as the National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc—a position she would hold until 1957. Early in her career, Height became a member of the National Council of Negro Women, and after she completed her time as the president of Delta Sigma Theta, she became the president of NCNW, holding that position for forty years.

While most are familiar with the men involved with the Civil Rights Movement, the roles of women were instrumental in the movement’s successes. Dorothy Height was extremely active, organizing Wednesdays in Mississippi as well as assisting with the organization and execution of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Height worked closely with Bayard Rustin on the complex logistics surrounding the March, used her vast network of contacts to raise funds, and offered the NCNW headquarters in Washington as a meeting place. She also helped mediate and resolve differences among the other organizers of the March as ideas and egos clashed throughout the planning process. While not allowed to give one of the keynote speeches that day, Height was seated as the only woman on the platform behind the speakers, after she had convinced the organizers to let Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak toward the end of the program.

After the Civil Rights Movement, Height continued to serve her community through service on national committees. Her lifetime of work was acknowledged in popular culture, TV’s A Different World included “Dorothy Height Hall,” a residence hall named in her honor, and she was celebrated with various awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom while her image was immortalized on a United States Postage Stamp in 2017. The world lost this trailblazing icon on April 20, 2010, but her legacy of leadership and activism still thrives in all the communities she touched.