Good-bye Ms. Height, See You in the Morning.

Height

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!’”

Yes Mam.

You have to admire a woman who didn’t mind taking care of business.

15 Responses to “Good-bye Ms. Height, See You in the Morning.”

  1. Danielle Says:

    Doc,

    I had the honor of meeting Dr. Height at Ebenezer AME church in Fort Washington when her book “Open Wide the Freedom Gates” was released. She was so elegant, eloquent, and poised. Definitely one of the highlights of my life.

  2. Katie Says:

    There is no finer tribute to a life well-lived than to be able to tell the truth about a soul and have it be glowing. Onward Ms. Height!

  3. Leslie Callahan Says:

    Amen.

  4. Joy K. Edmondosn Says:

    Invisible dignity…quiet grace…unshouted courage. These descriptors of African American womanhood were named by scholar Mary Burgher and popularized by Katie Cannon in her pioneering scholarship on black womanist ethics. They immediately came to me when remembering “Dr.” Dorthy Irene Height.

    Wearing each hat as a crown upon her head, she was a poster for the politics of respectability—imitating the dress, mannerisms, speech, etc. of a dominant culture in order to elicit visibility as a human being and ultimately to survive within that culture. But her visible symbols of dignified African American “ladynhood” were credible because of an invisible dignity that came from knowing, in the words of James Baldiwn,that her “crown [was] bought and paid for.”

    Somewhere I have a picture with Dr. Height from one of the National Black Family Reunions. As a principal founder of this annual summer gathering in DC, there she was amidst the tight jeans, Timberlands and toweled necks, in her signature church hat and sharp suit to deliver a message on the importance of family. Through speakers that had just blasted some classic R&B, she spoke with the methodical slowness and looked with the engaging steadiness of a seasoned preacher. Some fifteen years later, I remember that her quiet grace, her unshouted moral authority told me that we were hearing from an elder. From elder to ancestor, I still see her wearing the crown well.

  5. revmamaafrika Says:

    Thank you Mother Dorothy! We can never thank you enough! :) :)

  6. Susan Says:

    Love this, Renita, and though I never met Mrs. Height, I have seen her from a distance. She was a true warrior. I am not sad that she is gone, though I feel her loss already, but I am glad that she showed us all how to live. What a legacy. Thank you for this!

  7. lj Says:

    had a chance to meet Ms. Height during my work w/the urban league. she was amazing. figuring you’d make some acknowledgement of her, i came here looking for this. it’s a fitting tribute to her life’s work. were it on fb i’d hit the “like” button.

  8. Cheryl W.T. Says:

    Ms. Height will continue to be a model of servanthood,intelligence and integrity for blsck women and men of every generation,and for all of mankind as well

  9. Danielle Says:

    @Joy

    So beautifully written, your writing is melodic.

  10. Aundreia Says:

    Well done thy good and faithful servant - go in peace!

  11. Joy K. Edmondosn Says:

    @Danielle

    Thank you(in part for looking beyond my typos).

  12. Liletha Says:

    Until recently, I use to always think that I needed to have a husband and children to be able to leave a legacy once I was long gone. Dr. Height reminds me in her life’s work that that is not the case.

  13. Teresa Says:

    A true legend whose gone home to glory, but her work speaks forever!!!!!!!! in our lives and hearts.

  14. Paulette Coleman Says:

    I had the great honor and privilege of working at the National Council of Negro Women, Inc. for a number of years. I knew Dr. Height was an exceptional woman, even at that time, but I do not think I fully appreciated how fortunate I was to be in her presence and to learn from her on an almost daily basis. She had boundless energy, commuting between New York City, Washington, DC, and the NCNW offices in Alexandria, VA weekly and sometimes daily. She was passionate about the power of women and girls to change their situations. She championed equality, justice, and human/civil rights resulting in a life that was well lived. Always dignified, elegant, eloquent, and innovative, I am grateful that God placed me in Dr. Height’s orbit for a season.

    Paulette

  15. mally Says:

    Very great and very touching

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