civil rights activist
Best Known as: president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)
Dorothy Height helped shape and guide the civil-rights and African-American–women’s movements. As a member of the YWCA’s highest level of leadership, Height oversaw the desegregation of its facilities nationwide. A lifelong champion of strong communities and their importance in social welfare, Height inaugurated a series of “Black Family Reunions” in the mid-1980s sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women, an organization she led for 40 years. Although she sat on the podium with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, Height was unheralded publicly, but was the recipient of dozens of awards and honorary degrees throughout her career, including the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1994. The late activist C. DeLores Tucker called Height an icon to all African-American women, “I call Rosa Parks the mother of the civil rights movement. Dorothy Height is the queen.”
While in high school, an all-white jury awarded Height first prize in a national oratory contest. Armed with her prize—a four-year college scholarship—Height headed to New York’s Barnard College. Though accepted, she was not allowed to attend because the school had already filled its quota of “two Negro students per year.” In 2004, Dorothy Height graciously received an honorary degree from the same college that had turned her away 75 years before.