Dorothy Height, civil rights activist, dies at 98

April 20, 2010, 8:17 am
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Dorothy Height, who as longtime president of
the National Council of Negro Women was the leading female voice of
the 1960s civil rights movement, died Tuesday. She was 98.
      Height, who continued actively speaking out into her 90s, had
been at Howard University Hospital for some time. The hospital said
in a statement she died of natural causes.       As a teenager, Height marched in New York's Times Square
shouting, "Stop the lynching." In the 1950s and 1960s, she was
the leading woman helping the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other
activists orchestrate the civil rights movement.
      It was the second death of a major civil rights figure in less
than a week. Benjamin L. Hooks, the former longtime head of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, died
Thursday in Memphis at 85.
      The late activist C. DeLores Tucker once called Height an icon
to all African-American women.
      "I call Rosa Parks the mother of the civil rights movement,"
Tucker said in 1997. "Dorothy Height is the queen."
      Height was on the platform at the Lincoln Memorial, sitting only
a few feet from King, when he gave his famous "I have a dream"
speech at the March on Washington in 1963.
      "He spoke longer than he was supposed to speak," Height
recalled in a 1997 Associated Press interview. But after he was
done, it was clear King's speech would echo for generations, she
said, "because it gripped everybody."
      Height became president of the National Council of Negro Women
in 1957 and held the post until 1997, when she was 85. She remained
chairman of the group.
      "I hope not to work this hard all the rest of my life," she
said at the time. "But whether it is the council, whether it is
somewhere else, for the rest of my life, I will be working for
equality, for justice, to eliminate racism, to build a better life
for our families and our children."
      Height received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 from
President Bill Clinton.
      To celebrate Height's 90th birthday in March 2002, friends and
supporters raised $5 million to enable her organization to pay off
the mortgage on its Washington headquarters. The donors included
Oprah Winfrey and Don King.
      Height was born in Richmond, Va., and the family moved to the
Pittsburgh area when she was four. She earned bachelor's and
master's degrees from New York University and did postgraduate work
at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work. (She
had been turned away by Barnard College because it already had its
quota of two black women.)
      In 1937, while she was working at the Harlem YWCA, Height met
famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National
Council of Negro Women, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had
come to speak at a meeting of Bethune's organization. Height
eventually rose to leadership roles in both the council and the
      One of Height's sayings was, "If the time is not ripe, we have
to ripen the time." She liked to quote 19th century abolitionist
Frederick Douglass, who said that the three effective ways to fight
for justice are to "agitate, agitate, agitate."
      (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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