Remembering Dorothy Height, 1912 - 2010
The passing of Dorothy Height in 2010, as with any death, is sobering and at once celebratory, as she had completed the trajectory of a luminous career in service to society. The happy memory persists among those of us remaining in the land of the living, and their examples point rigorously toward the most worthy goals in our own strivings.
From the time of her youth in the 1920s, when in her high school in Pennsylvania she met with a long train of slights, culminating when she had won a public speaking contest carrying the award of a scholarship to the famous Barnard University in New York City, only to be rebuffed at the college gates because the school had already admitted two African American students, the yearly quota, Dorothy Height, resilient, smart, and inspired, promptly earned an undergraduate and Master’s Degree from the more hospitable New York University. She then set about reconstructing a perverse social world, and in the quest, which lasted in full vigor through the first decade of the next century, that is, our own age, she worked shoulder to shoulder with the greats among the courageous pioneers who envisioned a just society and who strove dramatically to lay the new foundations of its architecture. As a young intern in New York, she found herself hosting Eleanor Roosevelt when that excellent lady, having parked on a nearby street, came to visit the community center where the twenty-something Ms. Height was working. The dialogue between Ms. Height and Ms. Roosevelt, one of genuine and heartfelt interchange, both personal and intellectual and at all events intensely practical, continued for the next nearly three decades, ending only with Ms. Roosevelt’s death, in 1965. As the years followed, she found herself in the inner circles of the cause coalescing about its most famous leader, Martin Luther King, contributing a massive quantum of wisdom and energy to the movement whose effect was nothing less than a broad transformation of the moral and legal standards of American society.
Dialogue on Diversity presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Dorothy Height at the Public Policy Forum in 2007. In her presence, listening to her narrative, one might sense the startling vitality of figures – Ms. Roosevelt, the Rev. King, and a train of others – whom we had known as names in history books, and perhaps little more. Ms. Height died at the age of 98, having undimmed eye and the battling spirit of old – she was in the midst of a campaign to save a tennis court for its wonted use by neighborhood children.     
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