Our matriarch of justice passed this morning.
Dorothy I. Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) who fought for most of her life on behalf of women and blacks, died at the age of 98.
The last time I saw Ms. Height she was in her wheel chair, poised, eagle-eye alert, wearing her signature church lady wide brim hat, and in full control of everyone and everything.
President of the National Council of Negro Women for more than 40 years, advising presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton on both civil and gender rights, Ms. Height helped advance landmark legislation on school desegregation, voting rights and equality in the workplace.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Make no mistake about it, Ms. Height was among the coalition of African American leaders who pushed civil rights to the center of the American political stage in the years after World War II, often standing alone as a woman amidst a den of black male preachers, challenging sexism, decrying foolishness, negotiating between factions, calling egos on the carpet, making deals without losing her soul, and calling movements to moral order.
I remember the first time I met Ms. Height. She called me on the phone to invite me to speak at a NCNW meeting. I couldn’t believe it was Ms. Dorothy Height on the other line. It was 9pm where I was, 10pm there in her office in DC. She was in her 80s back then. “Ms. Dorothy, what are you doing in your office this time time of night?” I asked incredulously. “Where else do you suppose I’m supposed to be, Renita?” “Yes Mam.” I answered.
A few weeks ago after speaking at Howard University Rankin Chapel I was greeted by my mentor and friend, Dr. Marian Wright Edelman who mentioned that she was off to visit Ms. Dorothy who was in the hospital. “How’s she doing” I asked. “Ms. Dorothy is doing what she’s always doing –even from her sick bed– in charge and giving out orders to everyone.” We laughed. “She ordering even you around, Dr. Marian?” I asked. “Child, all any of us can say in reply to anything Ms. Height tells us is, ‘Yes Mam. That includes me!’”
You have to admire a woman who didn’t mind taking care of business.