Dorothy Height: A Model for Today’s Youth

Hi everyone.

Mood? Reflective.

As you already know Dorothy Height, a prominent Civil Rights figure, Chair and President Emerita of the National Council for Negro Women (NCNW), passed away yesterday. She was 98.

I didn’t find any children’s book dedicated to her life, but I would not be surprised if there is already one in progress. She did write an autobiography titled Open Wide the Freedom Gates. What a sacrificial and meaningful contribution she made to human rights in general, and women rights in particular.

Dorothy Height was born in March 24, 1912. Praised for her excellent grades, she earned her bachelor and master degrees in four years at New York University. She then attended Columbia University and New York School of Social Work.

At 21 she became the leader of the United Christian Youth Movement. As such she started a lifetime involvement as a Civil Rights advocate. She denounced segregation in the army and lynching practices; she fought for equal access to public transportation and a reform of the criminal justice.

At 23 years old she got appointed to handle the outcome of the Harlem riot of 1935. At 25, she traveled to Holland as a representative of the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), also known as the oldest and largest multicultural women’s organization in the world. A year later Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to spend the weekend and help prepare for the World Youth Conference, taking place at Vassar College.

Throughout her life Dorothy Height held positions of leadership on the National Board of the YWCA, including Director of YWCA School for Professional Workers. Her titles also include Director of Center for Racial Justice. She was a female leader of the Civil Rights movement, alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and his peers.

Dorothy Height’s contribution to social issues and women reaches as far as Africa and India, where she served as a visiting professor at the University of New Delhi in 1952. She bought together women of different faith and ethnicity backgrounds in America and beyond, notably through the establishment of “Wednesdays in Mississippi.” She promoted intercultural communication within communities and encouraged women to volunteer in Freedom Schools.

Dorothy Height received thirty-six Doctorate Degrees from institutions such as Howard, Harvard and Columbia University, just to quote a few.

What a life…

I am not sure if today’s youth realizes how it was like to live in this world and especially in America in 50, 60, 70 years ago: once assimilated to animals, non-Caucasians were not considered citizens at first. Today it is hard to imagine being American and living with people with different cultural heritages, but not having the same rights as your neighbors: no access to bus, no access to public libraries, putting your life in danger for talking to a Caucasian in public, for dating one. Inter-racial marriages were forbidden by law until about five, six decades ago in some states (not that long ago). The Caucasians who fought alongside women, Black, Asian, Hispanic or Arabic, put their lives in danger.

Dorothy Height’s life is a celebration of a victory on racism and social abuse, but also a reminder of what is left to accomplish. She started at a young age, at a time where women and especially women of color had so many barriers to abolish. Her legacy challenges today’s child, teen and adult in regards to today’s social issues. She fought for civil rights, for freedom for all. Human trafficking and slavery is bigger today than it ever was in the past: there are 27 millions slaves in the world, and an estimated 300,000 slave children in the USA. She fought to promote intercultural communication. Efforts are still needed for the promotion of cultural diversity in the media, and specifically in children’s literature, as a way to encourage literacy, cultural understanding and peace.

Dorothy Height, R.I.P. Thank you for paving the way for today’s generation and the ones to come.

Edited at 1:04 PM to add her Memoir.

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About Nathalie Mvondo

Nathalie Mvondo lives in Northern California and studies anthropology and nutrition. She is a writer and a blogger.
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9 Responses to Dorothy Height: A Model for Today’s Youth

  1. Pat K says:

    Quite a woman! We’re lucky to have had her on this earth.

    Like

  2. ann malaspina says:

    Thank you for telling Dorothy Height’s story! She was an amazing woman.

    Like

  3. Ari says:

    Thank you for all your research and publishing it on the blog! She has almost lived for 100 years. Wow. Dorothy Height is one of my role models, I loved reading Open Wide The Freedom Gates. I think it’s a memoir everyone should own. She is definitely one of my role models.

    By the way, I thought it was interesting that you used Caucasian (i’ve been in class in the midst of many a debate over this term. Personally, I use white and Caucasian intercahngeably, just like African American and black. But some white people don’t like being called Caucasian and vice versa. Which I find fascinating).

    Like

    • Hi Ari,

      I did think of you and all your hard work in calling out racism and inequalities when I read about her; it is inspiring to see teenagers like Maggie (of Bibliophilia-Maggie’s Bookshelf) and you be so proactive and determine to a much needed positive impact in the world. It’s wonderful!

      I did notice that I kept typing “Caucasian” when I wrote the post. It is actually the term I would use in an academic paper, because I kept being corrected in the classroom for using Black and White (yes, in college mind you. There are times where I just let it be and save my energy for other issues).

      To be honest, I’m having quite a problem with the “politically correctness” of words here, in the United States, especially when it comes to race/ethnicity/culture. The term “White” is NOT insulting, from my point of view. The term “Caucasian,” strictly (etymologically) speaking normally refers to a specific geographic area.

      The term “Niger” and “Negro” is historically charged, and though I am proud of it, I do care about who uses it and in what context, and I care about that person getting the facts straight.

      From where I’m from and lived, there’s isn’t such a distinction between White and Caucasian, and I’ve never heard the latter used outside the United States. We used “White,” sometimes “Europeans.” Coming here I was told to use “Caucasian,” but I’m over the word. Communicating is hard enough as it is when it comes to ethnicity, and if on top of that I have to guess who will be offended by the term “White” or “Caucasian,” well, you see where I’m going. I’d politely tell the person to get over it. And I’ll probably sound politically correct when I do so…

      We need a post about “White” or “Caucasian?” “People of Color” or “People of Culture?” Coming soon. 🙂

      Like

  4. Doret says:

    I plan on reading Height’s biography, to learn about Height and her work. Thank you for this.

    I do the same thing with African American and Black, White and Caucasian

    One of my reading pet peeves is when an author refers to a character as White, and a another one as African American. African American is so click this census box formal. To me its matches up better with Caucasian description, this that is census formal as well.

    When an author uses African American as a descriptive rather than Black, after they’ve used White – I always assume they do it, so they won’t offend anyone. And that offends me.

    I hope that makes some sense,

    Like

  5. Karen Strong says:

    I recently listened to an NPR segment and Dorothy Height and it was fascinating. I’ve always been intrigued on the work that she has done for women and children.

    I’m surprised that there isn’t a book geared to kids and teens on Ms. Height. Maybe that will change in the future.

    Like

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