Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Dr. Dorothy Height: The Passing of a Legend

Apr 20, 2010

We are all afforded one lifetime. Born into varying circumstances and faced with differing degrees of challenges and opportunities, we all ultimately define the course of our own lives. Some make it a point to encourage and assist others in their own struggles, while others only focus on their own personal advancement. There are those who volunteer in their local communities from time to time and those that decide on pursuing careers that will help educate or somehow heal the next generation. And then there are the chosen few; those rare and blessed individuals who dedicate their entire existence to the larger betterment of society. Dr. Dorothy Height, an icon who shaped an entire century of American progress towards racial and gender equality, was one of those exceptional fighters. And we all owe nothing but gratitude to this remarkable woman, for she played an integral role for all of us to enjoy the benefits of today.

The ‘Godmother of the civil rights movement’ as she is so often revered, will uniquely be remembered in the history books for simultaneously fighting for African American causes and for women’s progress. She marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., organized several rallies herself, protested against lynching in NY, helped further education equality with Mary McLeod Bethune and help found the National Women’s Political Caucus with the likes of Gloria Steinem. Dr. Height was the President of the National Council of Negro Women for four decades, and an impeccable orator herself, delivering remarks at key events like the Harlem Riot of 1935. This unwavering friend fought tirelessly for desegregation, an end to poverty, voting rights and equality for both men and women regardless of race, color and creed. At a time when instability and inequality were blatant, Dr. Height caught the ear and attention of President Roosevelt and Mrs. Roosevelt, and even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in later years.

Dr. Height’s accolades are far too great to mention here; there simply isn’t enough room and definitely not enough words. In her 98 years on earth, she dedicated the bulk – some 80 years – working towards a sustainable and freer future for everyone. From the moment she was denied enrollment into Barnard College because the school had already ‘met its quota of Negro students’, Dr. Height remained vigilant and active in combating injustice wherever and whenever she saw it. And her dedication didn’t end with the civil rights movement or the women’s movement, but rather continued tirelessly till her last days. Just two months ago, Dr. Height gave me instructions on how to fight against Black unemployment in our meeting with President Obama at the White House. Even though she was physically weak and could not attend the meeting due to inclement weather, her mind was as sharp as ever, and she even talked to me until the very moment I walked into the White House. Following this important meeting with the President, I immediately briefed Dr. Height, who insisted on staying involved and active in working towards alleviating skyrocketing Black unemployment, despite her own ailing health. And just three weeks ago, I visited her bedside in the hospital, knowing that greatness comes rarely in a lifetime.

We are all in deep mourning. Mourning the loss of a truly honorable and exceptional woman. Those of us who organized and battled alongside Dr. Height are mourning; Congressional leaders are mourning; the African American community is mourning; women are mourning; and everyone who understands the intricate link between racial and gender equality should be in mourning today.

President Obama himself stated: “And even in the final weeks of her life – a time when anyone else would have enjoyed their well-earned rest – Dr. Height continued her fight to make our nation a more open and inclusive place for people of every race, gender, background and faith.”

We all echo the President’s sentiments as we honor the tremendous legacy of Dr. Height, and hope and pray that we are lucky enough to receive another such treasure for humanity soon.