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    April 2010
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Dorothy Height: “A Matriarch Moves On” (and Hillary in a Hat)

“Dorothy Height: A matriarch moves on”

–Florida Times-Union headline

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010)

Dorothy Height, In Her Own Words:

In 1929, Height was accepted to Barnard College but denied admission due to an unwritten racial quota of only two black students per a year. From Height’s memoir:

But I couldn’t believe my ears. I was devastated. Since childhood, school had been my love, my life.


I couldn’t bear to call home and report that I wasn’t going to college after all–that they didn’t want me. Crushed and confued, I went to the Harlem apartment of my sister, Jessie Randolph. We called William, who said, in a positive tone, “There are other schools,” and urged me to call New York University.


Dean Schaeffer studied the letter. I’ll never forget her eyes as she looked up. She said, “A girl who makes these kinds of grades doesn’t need an application to enroll at NYU.” A ray of hope crept into my heart. She gave me a form. When I filled it out, I was matriculated at NYU. From that day forward I have loved every brick of that university.

The National Council of Negro Women honors Dr. Height:

A photograph of civil rights heroine Dorothy Height in her youth is seen at right on the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women in Washington, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, as her casket is moved to nearby Howard University. Height died April 20 at the age of 98. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

LA Times:

As president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1998, she led the group to expand its mission. Her initiatives included training thousands of women — housewives, teachers, office workers, students — to work as community advocates. Back in their own communities, they pushed for better housing, schools and stores. It was a way to help women escape what Height called the “triple bind of racism, sexism and poverty.”

“The triple bind of racism, sexism and poverty” …. Dr. Height, thank you for getting the struggle, on its multiple levels, and for sharing your voice with us.

From Marian Wright Edelman:

Dr. Dorothy Height was a lantern and role model for millions of women and a long-haul social change agent, blessed with uncommon commitment and talent. Her fingerprints are quietly embedded in many of the transforming events of the last seven decades as African Americans, women, and children pushed open and walked through previously closed doors of opportunity.
My organization, Children’s Defense Fund, was blessed to have her serve on our board for over 30 years. When she passed away on April 20 at 98, we all lost a treasure, a wise counselor, and a rock we could always lean against for support in tough times.

“A lantern and role model for millions of women and a long-haul social change agent”… I love that description. Dorothy Height shined on us and blazed trails which generations after hers have been able to take for granted.

Another excerpt (bold and underline emphases are mine):

During the civil rights movement, while so many women were playing vital roles that weren’t featured in the spotlight, Height was always up front with a seat at the table. She was often the only woman in the room with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the rest of the “Big Six” group of male leaders as they planned many key strategies, and she was sitting on the stage–she should have been a speaker–at the historic March on Washington. She led the NCNW membership as active participants in the movement and reminded us that women were its backbone–unseen but strong.

One more:

Through it all, Height’s intellect and strength remained as sharp as her signature sense of style. A musical based on her life was named “If This Hat Could Talk,” and anyone who knew Height and her trademark gorgeous hats understands just how that title was chosen. When Height was awarded her Congressional Gold Medal, then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton began her tribute by saying she had known Height for more than 30 years, since they first began working together on the Children’s Defense Fund’s board–and “just as in those long ago days, today once again, Dr. Height is the best-dressed woman in the entire room.”

Looking at the coverage of the events honoring Height, with pictures of her in her signature hat on display, she still appears to be the best-dressed woman in the room.

Here’s another well-dressed woman… H/T to Still4hill for this photo from Wednesday’s Dorothy Height Memorial:

Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attend a "Community Celebration of Life" memorial for the late civil rights matriarch Dorothy Height at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, Wednesday, April 28, 2010. Her funeral will be held Thursday at Washington National Cathedral. Height died April 20 at the age of 98. (AP Photo/J. Scott)

45 Responses

  1. Obama read a speech at her memorial service, but I bet he didn’t know who she was until she died.

    • He met with her at the WH in January. The WH put up the youtube after she died.

      • Oh, he met her in January – that makes it all good.

        • I skipped to the end where Dorothy Height spoke. I tried to watch the Obama part, but he was doing the same ol’ professor Obama shtick it seemed. I had to fastforward thirty seconds in.

          • On NPR top of the hour news summary, Obama clip was on with him bragging she’d been to the WH 21 times.

          • Here’s hoping he learned something, anything from her over the course of those 21 meetings. It would take a heartless person not to.

        • The Daily Mail has a picture of him crying at her service today. I say “doctored.” The tear looks like it was photoshopped to me.

          On the other hand: Hillary’s hat is smashing! Great tribute.

          • When will you realize that Hillar is a shill for Obama? I lost all respect for her when she did a complete 180 and then rubbed it in with casting ALL of NY delegates for him!!! WAKE UP PEOPLE. She is part of the same cloth as Obama and the rest of the regime.

    • My friend was talking to a guy who reenacts with the 54th Massachusetts, and they marched in Obama’s inaugural parade, and the reenactor said that when they marched by the reviewing stand, Obama’s head whipped around and he looked right at them. And, not taking anything away from the awesomeness of the reenactors and being happy for what a cool moment it was for them, I couldn’t help thinking that I would frankly not be at all surprised if the words “54th Massachusetts” meant nothing to Obama. I’m betting Michelle had to explain it.

  2. OT: C-Span 3 right now

    Emily’s List 25th Anniversary… Speaker Pelosi (D-Stupakistan) will be speaking at some point, I believe.

  3. Thanks for the thread. A wonderful tribute to a great person.

    • You’re welcome…my generation inherited a lot from Height and other trailblazers. We grew up thinking we’re post-racial, post-feminist, post-this, post-that. We’ve taken too much for granted. This was the *least* I could do.

  4. Thanks. What an inspiration she is.

    • When I think of Height’s life work, it fills me with gratitude and conviction to keep going. (I’m also completely horrified by the contrast to today where people think the relentless pursuit of Obama’s or Trig Palin’s birth certificate is any kind of speaking truth to power.)

  5. I love Dorothy almost as much as I love Hillary’s hat. Rest in peace, heroine.

  6. Hillary attended the funeral today – without Bill. Either Bill or Hillary could have given a great eulogy from their heart and without help from speech writers. Instead Obama just gave a boring speech.

    Hillary was on the front row seated next to – Congressman Clyburn. I bet she wanted to backhand that Judas. Well, actually she probably didn’t but I would have. Hillary is a far better person than I am.

    Having Clyburn on the front row (next to HRC) seemed like an evil plan hatched by the juvenile fist bumping a-holes in the W.H.

    Love her hat at the memorial service. Hill gets it.

  7. Wonk – I forgot to say thanks for this tribute.

  8. Hillary is extraordinary and a beautiful woman, she´s the greatest leader in the world.Love you Hillary!

  9. Thank you for the post Wonk. Great tribute.

  10. it would have been great if Hillary had done the eulogy

  11. Thanks for the wonderful post, Wonk. Not to hijack, but so long as we are on the general topic of civil rights, this is just burning me up:

    NEW YORK — Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged “immodest.”


    So we have Stupak and his spineless enablers guarding the rights of women here in the USA, and fucking “Boobies cause earthquakes” IRAN guarding the rights of women in the UN? *bangs head* And of course, the press and the US screamed bloody murder earlier when Iran tried to get a seat on the “regular” human rights commission. But they had not a peep to say about this one. Probably because it wasn’t, like, actual humans this time: just wimmins.


    Not one day in anyone’s life is an uneventful day, no day without profound meaning, no matter how dull and boring it might seem, no matter whether you are a seamstress or a queen, a shoeshine boy or a movie star, a renowned philosopher or a Down’s syndrome child.

    Because in every day of your life, there are opportunities to perform little kindnesses for others, both by conscious acts of will and unconscious example.

    Each smallest act of kindness – even just words of hope when they are needed, the remembrance of a birthday, a compliment that engenders a smile – reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo, because kindness is passed on and grows each time it’s passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away.

    Likewise, each small meanness, each thoughtless expression of hatred, each envious and bitter act, regardless of how petty, can inspire others, and is therefore the seed that ultimately produces evil fruit, poisoning people whom you have never met and never will.

    All human lives are so profoundly and intricately entwined – those dead, those living, those generations yet to come – that the fate of all is the fate of each, and the hope of humanity rests in every heart and in every pair of hands.

    Therefore, after every failure, we are obliged to strive again for success, and when faced with the end of one thing, we must build something new and better in the ashes, just as from pain and grief, we must weave hope, for each of us is a thread critical to the strength – the very survival – of the human tapestry.

    Every hour in every life contains such often-unrecognized potential to affect the world that the great days for which we, in our dissatisfaction, so often yearn are already with us; all great days and thrilling possibilities are combined always in THIS MOMENTOUS DAY! – Rev. H.R. White

    Excerpt from Dean Koontz’s book, “From the Corner of His Eye”.

    It embodies the idea of how the smallest of acts can have such a profound effect on each of our lives. Go with God, until we see you again, Dorothy Height, thank you.

  13. Last Interview of Dorothy Height (March 2010)
    She credits an encounter with Indira Gandhi (then daughter of Prime Minister Nehru) for influencing her civil rights work, teaching her that deep down people want to be empowered to help themselves rather than have to ask/beg someone else for help. She ends talking about how important women’s advancement is. Amazing.

    • Truly amazing. What a big heart.

      One of the screens I always used during our earlier fight for women’s equality was the difference between the women who wanted to be a small fish in a great big pond and those that wanted to be a big fish in a little pond.

      The women’s and gay rights movement has been taken over by the latter. Dr. Height was the former.

  14. OT – Obama and Biden have each had a personal interview with Sidney Thomas for SC.

    What a shock – a white male goes first.

    • Ach! Some people leave live mics on; I leave live tags…or something like that.

  15. Dick Durbin calls those concerned that the administration is going to gut SS and Medicare “bleeding heart liberals”

    He also admonished “bleeding heart liberals” to be open to program reductions to restore fiscal balance. An hour after the commission’s meeting, however, several liberal activists held a conference call with reporters to press for additional spending to create jobs, lower military spending, higher taxes for the wealthy and no cuts in Medicare or Social Security.


  16. Hats off to Dorothy Height. She was on the battle front with it all, intergration, housing, jobs, wages, education, banking, politics and the YWCA,. I can remember her and Billie Jean King getting awards back in the mid 1970’s. I likedto remember that about
    her, sharing the stage with other women who had
    worked their asses off, and would do it again in a heart beat.

    Early on, she felt that the black community could not
    place an emphasis on sexism, until racism was eliminated. By that she meant dealing with the whole black family and community. It was at this time that there were major differences how white women and black women were viewed in the feminist movement.
    It was almost like neither had anything in common, well it was said that only a few white women lived in poverty, and black women were taking care of their homes, and children, while the white women did their
    volunteer work.

    Dorothy, like Hillary was all about human rights. She made her mark in the world, and I look over my shoulder and realize there is much work yet to be done.

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