Dorothy Height’s LegacyApril 20, 2010
If you’re looking for someone to provide proper perspective on and due justice to the life of Dorothy Height, who died this morning at age 98, please accept my apology in advance. What can a 28-year-old, white, middle-class male from New York possibly have to say about the woman President Barack Obama called the “godmother of the civil rights movement”? This strikes me as one of those times when a person’s legacy speaks far greater volumes than any words the rest of us might come up with.
What do you say about a woman who graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and won a college scholarship to Barnard College, only to be denied admission because the school had already fulfilled its quota of two black students?
What do you say about a woman — the only woman — who stood on the platform of the Lincoln Memorial as Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963?
What do you say about the woman King personally selected to go to Birmingham, Alabama, to comfort the families of four young black girls who were killed in an infamously vicious church bombing and provide some semblance of healing to a city torn asunder in its aftermath?
What do you say about a woman who advocated for school desegregation for children, equal pay for women, and civil rights for all — from Presidents Eisenhower to Obama?
What do you say about a woman who for 40 years headed the National Council of Negro Women and helped millions of Americans receive an education, register to vote, raise families, and achieve successful careers?
What do you say about a woman who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and 36 honorary doctorates from college and universities — including, not for nothing, Barnard College?
What do you say about a woman who — despite seeing and living through some of the most violent and traumatic periods of racial turmoil in American history — always fought fairly, spoke respectfully, listened considerately, and rose above the fray each and every time?
What can you, I, or anyone possibly say to do it all justice?
Two words, and only two: thank you.