March 24 – Happy Birthday, Dorothy Height

Posted on March 24, 2015

If you had to list the biggest names in the Civil Rights movement, who would you name?

You'd probably name Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks. You might list James Farmer and John Lewis. You probably wouldn't mention today's famous birthday...

But according to James Farmer, you should!

Farmer claims that Dorothy Height was one of the six top movers-and-shakers in the Civil Rights movement. She was left off of most people's “Big Six” lists, he said, because she was a woman.

Born on this date in 1912, in Virginia, Height received a scholarship to attend college and was formally admitted to Barnard College. But when she arrived at college, ready to register for classes, she was turned away. Apparently there was an unwritten rule that the college only admitted two black students per year, and those token spots were already filled!

Height still managed to get a college education elsewhere and began to work as a caseworker for the New York City Welfare Department.

Height was a joiner, a fighter, an activist. She was an active member of a sorority, and she used the organization to create leadership training programs for women (especially focusing on African American women).

She joined the national staff of the YWCA, and she joined the National Council of Negro Women; she helped create the organization called the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership and the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.

Height also organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi” – a program with which well-connected, educated white and black women who live in the north would leave for Mississippi on Tuesday and return to the north on Thursday. All day Wednesday, they would meet with southern white and black women—there would be discussions and workshops and projects.

Wednesdays in Mississippi was an attempt to build bridges between races, between classes, between different regional and societal groups. Apparently, it worked very well to increase connection and understanding and to help motivate people for social and racial justice!

In addition to being an administrator and
writer, Dorothy Height was an educator.
Dorothy Height was known for
her hats!!
Even though Dorothy Height is left out of many discussions about the Civil Rights movement, she did meet with and influence leaders such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson. She wrote a newspaper column, she served on committees and commissions, and she won honors such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Her memoirs were turned into a musical stage play called If This Hat Could Talk. Height was even awarded a “Google Doodle” last year!

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