Height spent her entire adult life advocating for racial and gender equality, and was a pioneer for social justice. Though she never became a household name, Height is remembered as perhaps the most influential woman of the civil rights era. She was equal parts a civil rights activist and feminist, fighting for issues like desegregation and voting rights at the beginning of her career and later helping to form the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom in 1990.
She was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, including during the turbulent 1960s. In downtown Washington, in a building once used as a slave market, is the organization’s headquarters, which Height was instrumental in acquiring. It also houses the Dorothy I. Height Leadership Institute.
She had the ear of White Houses dating back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, seeing herself as a bridge between the underrepresented and those in power. In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, calling her “one of the world’s most tireless and accomplished advocates of civil rights, the rights of women, and the health and stability of family and community life.”
She died in 2010 at the age of 98 in Washington D.C. Her Washington Post obituary quoted Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) as once saying, “Dorothy Height deserves credit for helping black women understand that you had to be feminist at the same time you were African . . . that you had to play more than one role in the empowerment of black people.”
Most of her work was done behind the scenes, but she prominently sat with Rev. Martin Luther King on the platform at the Lincoln Memorial when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. She was, according to the Post, upset that the event didn’t feature a speaker on women’s rights.
She then would likely be pleased to know that she is now the 15th African American woman to appear in the stamp series. The first stamp featured Harriet Tubman in 1978. Other Black Heritage stamps have honored icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells and Ella Fitzgerald.
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