Happy Black History Month! This is the fifth blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known Black Americans who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).
The focus of today’s blog is Dorothy Height, an influential advocate for women’s rights in the 60’s, and one of the only women who attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s infamous “I Have a Dream” speech.
This is her story.
Excelled as a Student
According to womenshistory.org, Dorothy Height was born in 1912 in Richmond, VA. Shortly after, her family moved to Rankin, Pennslyvania where Height grew up excelling in school. She eventually earned a scholarship to attend college. Initially, she planned to attend small liberal arts school Barnard College in New York City. However, Barnard College at the time did not admit Black people. So instead, Height earned a Bachelor’s in education and a Master’s in psychology from New York University. Her first job would be as a social worker who later worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
President of National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)
After leaving the YWCA, she happened to encounter a leader within the Black community. After meeting Mary McLeod Bethune, Height felt inspired to join the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). She served as the President for 40 years. In her time there, she worked on reconstructing the criminal justice system and ending the lynchings of Black people. She also helped to fund other civil rights activists and support voter registration in the South.
Consulted for Advice by U.S. Presidents
Height gained a lot of respect from fellow civil rights leaders as well as the leaders of the country. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Former President Lyndon B. Johnson often consulted her for advice on political issues. She also traveled extensively as a visiting professor at the University of New Delhi in India as well as with the Black Women’s Federation of South Africa.
Attended Dr. MLK’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” Speech
Height not only helped to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, but she was also seated on the speaker’s stage as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech. She was one of the only women to do so because of gender discrimination within the Civil Rights Movement. Although she didn’t speak at the March, she and Anna Arnold Hedgeman convinced civil rights leaders to allow women to speak at the event.
Over her lifetime of service, Height racked up quite a number of awards. From Former President Ronald Reagan, she received the Citizens Medal Award in 1989. In 2004, not only did officials induct her into the Democracy Hall of Fame International but she also received the Congressional Gold Medal. In addition, it is estimated she also received 24 honorary degrees. Height passed away in 2010 as an American hero at the age of 98. Read more about Dorothy Height here.
Read another article from the “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know” blog series here.