Dorothy I. Height
National Visionary

March 24, 1912 - April 20, 2010
Born in Richmond, Virginia

Civil Rights Activist, President Emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women

Presidents from Bill Clinton to Ronald Reagan have sought her advice. Arts and entertainment icons from Bill Cosby to Maya Angelou call her friend; and four million African-American women have looked to Dorothy Height for decades as their unwavering voice in the corridors of power.

Born March 24, 1912, Dorothy Height grew up part of a middle-class, religious family in the small mining town of Rankin, Pennsylvania. As a teenager, her world revolved around church activities, singing, and earning top marks in everything from school work to her performance on the basketball and debate teams.

Height as a
young woman

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife

But at the end of her high school career, she would face discrimination in a form that would shape her life, and move her on to the path of social activism. Dorothy Height applied to and was accepted by the prestigious Barnard College in New York, but once she arrived, school officials turned her away, explaining that their quota of 2 black students had already been filled.

Over the years, Dorothy Height would earn a masters degree from New York University, travel internationally as leader of the United Christian Youth Movement, work as a teacher, and as a social worker with the YWCA in Harlem.

As a young woman during this vibrant period, she became friends with young artists like Sidney Poitier, Langston Hughes, and Harry Belafonte. She also developed relationships with some of the legendary leaders who would shape this country’s racial history: W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mary McLeod Bethune, her life-long mentor, and the woman she eventually succeeded as head of the National Council of Negro Women.

During the civil rights movement, Dorothy Height was the only female among the Big Six, a small group of the movement’s most powerful leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King. She was part of some of the most compelling events in U.S. history.


E.C.H.O.-1 profiles
Dorothy Height's
basketball career

During the more than 40 years of her leadership, NCNW grew into an umbrella organization encompassing some 240 local women’s groups and 31 national organizations, representing some 4 million, primarily African-American women. She focused on creating programs for the economic empowerment of women, took on the leadership of the national Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, led the drive to purchase NCNW’s historic headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, successfully lobbied for the building of a sculpture of Bethune, on public parkland, created and the annual, nationwide Black Family Reunion, and tirelessly spoke out on issues affecting women worldwide.

In 2003, Dr. Height wrote and published the remarkable story of her life, in her autobiography, Open Wide The Freedom Gates: A Memoir.


Dorothy Heights Wikipedia Page

URL (Click to bookmark): http://www.visionaryproject.org/heightdorothy