updated 1:38 PM UTC, Jan 24, 2013
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Dorothy Irene Height

DorothyHeight(March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010)

Ms. Height is credited as the first person in the modern civil rights era to treat the problems of equality for women and equality for African-Americans as a seamless whole. This was a merging concern that had historically been largely separate.

Originally trained as a social worker, she was president of the National Council of Negro Women for four decades. These dates stemmed from 1957 to 1997, overseeing a range of programs on issues like voting rights, poverty and, in later years, AIDS.

A longtime executive of the Y.W.C.A., she presided over the integration of its facilities nationwide in the 1940s.

In 1963, Ms. Height, by then president of the National Council of Negro Women, sat on the platform an arm’s length from Dr. King as he delivered his epochal “I Have a Dream” speech.

Ms. Height was one of the march’s chief organizers and a prizewinning speaker herself. She was
not asked to speak, but many other black leaders, all men, addressed the crowd that day. After she was accepted at Barnard College in 1929 as a star student from western Pennsylvania, she was summoned to New York to meet with the dean.

There the dean told her there was a problem. Of course she knew already that this was a private college for women. Barnard College had already met its quota for Negro students that year, the dean told her. She went on to earn bachelors and master’s degrees from New York University and did postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work. She also served as National President of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority Incorporated from 1946-1957. She remained active with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority throughout her life. While there she developed leadership training programs and interracial and ecumenical education programs.

The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and other awards, she was accorded a place of  honor on the days of Jan. 20, 2009, when Barack Obama took the oath of office as the nation’s 44th president. Ms. Height was also the author of a memoir, “Open Wide the Freedom Gates” (Public Affairs, 2003), with a foreword by Maya Angelou. The New York Times Book Review called the book “a poignant short course in a century of African-American history.”

Ms. Height, who never married, was a longtime resident of Washington. She is survived by a sister, Anthanette Aldridge of New York City.

By: Kanika A. Reese

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