Dorothy Height: “The Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement”

Written by Jae Jones

, was a leader of the African-American and women’s rights movements. She was considered both the grande dame of the civil rights era and its unsung heroine. was trained as a social worker, and became the president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997. She was the overseer of many programs such as helping African-American people with voting and overcoming poverty issues.


Dorothy Irene Height, was born on March 24, 1912 in Richmond, Va. As a child she suffered with asthma, and at that time was not expected to live past 16. She began her civil rights work as a teenager, volunteering on voting rights and anti-lynching campaigns. Height had applied to Barnard College and was accepted. However, the college had met their Negro quota for the year and turned her away. She ended up attending New York University where she received a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in psychology two years later.

Height, worked with other influential people such as Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and many others to organize the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. For many decades, she advised a string of American presidents on civil rights.


According to the New York Times, “if Ms. Height was less well known than her contemporaries in either the civil rights or women’s movement, it was perhaps because she was doubly marginalized, pushed offstage by women’s groups because of her race and by groups because of her sex.”  She was a quiet but firm women, who stood grounded in her beliefs. President Barack Obama credited Height as being the “the godmother of the civil rights movement” and a hero to many Americans.

In 1963, Height sat only at an arm’s length away from Dr. King listening to him give his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. She was one of the chief organizes and prize winning orators herself. However, she was not asked to speak, but many others did—all men.

Besides the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Height’s many honors include the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded by President George W. Bush in 2004. The two medals are the country’s highest civilian awards. Ms. Height received three dozen honorary doctorates, from institutions including Tuskegee, Harvard and Princeton Universities. “But there was one academic honor — the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree — that resonated more strongly than all the rest: In 2004, 75 years after turning her away, Barnard College designated Ms. Height an honorary graduate.” (New York Times) Read more.




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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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