Legendary civil rights leader Dorothy Height died Tuesday at the age of 98. In 2003, The Washingtonian recognized Height as one of Washington’s proudest monuments. In 1994, she was named a Washingtonian of the Year.
I first met Dorothy Height in the late 1960s. As president of the National Council of Negro Women, she had forged a partnership with Church Women United and the National Council of Jewish Women to create Women in Community Service. That larger organization sent teams of northern black and white women south for “Wednesdays in Mississippi” to support the Mississippi Freedom Schools and women in poverty.
As a young press officer for the National Council of Jewish Women, I marveled at Dr. Height’s quiet authority. She convinced suburban middle-class women to put principle ahead of personal safety, and she did it without ever raising her voice.
We met again when I interviewed her for The Washingtonian in 1993. She talked about the pressure to change the name of the National Council of Negro Women now that African Americans no longer referred to themselves as “negroes.” “I was born ‘colored’,” Height said. It wasn’t the label but the limitations that went with it that concerned Height. Her goal was, and always would be, to change the game and not the name.
Yet no one was more aptly named than Dorothy Height. Sitting in her wheelchair, she stood taller than anyone in the room.