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Dorothy Height

Social activist Dorothy Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, on March 24, 1912. At an early age, she moved with her family to Rankin, Pennsylvania. While in high school, Height was awarded a scholarship to New York University for her oratory skills, where she studied and earned her master's degree.

Height began her career working as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department, but at the age of twenty-five, she began her career as a civil rights activist when she joined the National Council of Negro Women. She fought for equal rights for both African Americans and women, and in 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. She remained active with the organization until 1977, and while there she developed leadership training programs and interracial and ecumenical education programs. In 1957, Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held until 1997. During the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Height organized "Wednesdays in Mississippi," which brought together black and white women from the north and South to create a dialogue of understanding. Leaders of the United States regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Height also encouraged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to desegregate schools and President Lyndon B. Johnson to appoint African American women to positions in government.

Height has served on a number of committees, including as a consultant on African affairs to the secretary of state, the President's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped and the President's Committee on the Status of Women. Her tireless efforts for equal rights have earned her the praise and recognition of numerous organizations, as well. She has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom From Want Award and the NAACP Spingarn Medal. She has also been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Height passed away on April 20, 2010.

Accession Number

A2003.245

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/13/2003

Last Name

Height

Maker Category
First Name

Dorothy

Birth City, State, Country

Richmond

HM ID

HEI01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

African American women are very special women. We seldom do what we want to do, but we always do what we have to do.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/24/1912

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Sweet Potatoes

Death Date

4/20/2010

Short Description

Nonprofit chief executive and social activist Dorothy Height (1912 - 2010 ) was the president of National Council of Negro Women for over forty years. Leaders of the United States regularly took her counsel, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Employment

Little Red Schoolhouse (NYC)

Negro World

New York Department of Welfare

Greater New York Federation of Churches

Harlem YWCA

National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dorothy Height interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dorothy Height's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dorothy Height describes her parents' backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dorothy Height recounts her childhood Rankin, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dorothy Height describes her childhood personality

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dorothy Height reviews her childhood activities

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dorothy Height details her pursuits during her school years

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dorothy Height describes her parents' affiliations

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dorothy Height recalls a racial encounter from her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dorothy Height remembers her mentors

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dorothy Height recalls an episode from her early oratorical career

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dorothy Height discusses her college choice

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dorothy Height details her extra-curricular endeavors in New York

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dorothy Height describes her affiliations while in Harlem, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dorothy Height remembers an artist community in 1930s Harlem

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dorothy Height recalls her social service work as a student

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dorothy Height discusses her involvement with the National Black United Front

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dorothy Height describes her involvement in various organizations

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dorothy Height recalls meeting Mary McLeod Bethune

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dorothy Height describes her early work with the Harlem YWCA

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dorothy Height discusses her advocacy efforts during World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dorothy Height remembers Eleanor Roosevelt

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dorothy Height recalls a threat from the Ku Klux Klan, part 1

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dorothy Height recalls a threat from the Ku Klux Klan, part 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dorothy Height discusses the aims of the National Council for Negro Women

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dorothy Height illustrates the employment opportunities for African Americans post-World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dorothy Height discusses the Mary McLeod Bethune Monument, Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dorothy Height reflects on the legacy of the Brown v. the Board of Education decision

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dorothy Height reviews black women's contributions to the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dorothy Height remembers U.S. presidents

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dorothy Height remembers the United Civil Rights Leadership

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dorothy Height recalls law enforcement's abuse of black women during the Civil Rights Movement, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dorothy Height recalls law enforcement's abuse of black women during the Civil Rights Movement, part 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dorothy Height discusses black women's participation in Civil Rights activities

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dorothy Height recalls Civil Rights efforts in Mississippi

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dorothy Height remembers the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dorothy Height considers the legacy of the National Council for Negro Women

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dorothy Height reflects on her legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

6$3

DATitle
Dorothy Height remembers an artist community in 1930s Harlem
Dorothy Height recalls meeting Mary McLeod Bethune
Transcript
Harlem [New York] was, was alive with art and creativity, and some of it was popular art and some of it was fine art. Now, who were some of the musicians in Harlem that you knew or--?$$Well, first there was Duke Ellington, Sy Oliver, Cab Calloway. For a while, I lived next door to the Mills Brothers, and there was Lena Horne, Count Basie. The interesting thing is that, at that time, many of the musicians had little work, but they would work downtown and then come to Harlem--there was a restaurant on Seventh Avenue, where sometimes the peo--they would be helping and waiting tables and singing with three (unclear). And, you know, it was, it was a remarkable kind of experience. It was also a time when Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen and John [Oliver] Killens and all of them were very much a part of life and Paul Robeson, of course. So, and I worked for Paul Robeson on what he called a Housing Coordinating Committee cause he was trying to do more about housing for the poor, as well as doing his singing. So it's, Harlem was just a marvelous place for me to grow up.$$Now, I read that one of your--that you lived close to W. C. Handy?$$I lived next door to W. C. Handy. And we would spend holidays together. His daughters, particularly, Catherine [Handy Lewis] and, and they--we were friends together. And whenever we were with Mr. Handy, he always played the 'St. Louis Blues.' I do have to say that it was his song, but other people played it better, but he certainly was the creator. And we always--I always loved to hear him tell about it.$$Okay, did he have a story about it, about the 'St. Louis Blues'?$$Well, he would just, you know, he would just say how he took the feelings of people and put them into music, and say "I hate to see the sun go down". It's almost, it's, it's almost like saying, the close of day makes me sad. And he would, he had all kinds of stories about some of his work that he did. And he loved to play the, the saxophone and stuff like that.$Also in 1937, and this is a big year because you meet Mary McLeod Bethune and Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt in '37 [1937], am I right?$$Yeah, 1937 was quite a year for me because when I came back, and I was working there at the Harlem Y [YWCA, Young Women's Christian Association], I had the assignment to escort Eleanor Roosevelt into a meeting Mrs. Bethune was holding. And it turned out to be the meeting of the National Council of Negro Women [NCNW]. And as I was leaving to take Mrs. Roosevelt, I--Mrs. Bethune asked me my name, and when I told her, she said, come back. We need you. And I've been back ever since. And even then, before I could get back, she had put me on the resolutions committee. And the first resolution that I ever wrote in my life had to deal with child welfare for the National Council of Negro Women.$$Now, what was Mrs. Bethune like? Tell us something about her.$$(No audible response).$$What was Mary McLeod Bethune like?$$She was a magnificent human being, a deeply spiritual person; a person who was both no-nonsense and had a very good sense of humor. She had an understanding of issues and it was she who came up with the idea, "Leave no one behind" cause she really felt that we needed to organize our efforts and that, as a--as, as really a basic purpose, more than a slogan. In 1935, she founded--she had founded the National Council of Negro Women as an organization, a national organization. And this was two years later that I met her. But I've been very active in it ever since.