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A Lifetime of Working Toward Justice

An unlabeled and undated photograph shows Height, second from left, and Jesse Jackson, second from right. Photo by Ivelisse Estrada

There’s no one word or moment that can adequately describe the life and work of Dorothy Irene Height.

A civil rights activist who worked for gender and racial equality, Height spent the better part of her life fighting for justice. Born in 1912, she began her career working for the New York City Welfare Department, before moving to the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and ultimately the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). The longest-serving president of the National Council of Negro Women, which was founded by Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935, Height worked to fight against racist and sexist laws and to challenge US cultural norms. 

Height was a voice for the voiceless. She was the lone woman among the leaders of the 1963 March on Washington. Her work in community organizing spanned more than seven decades. Height collaborated with social, religious, and community leaders across the nation and across the political divide in efforts to combat injustice. She was the recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Height died in 2010 at age 98, but her legacy lives on in the Schlesinger Library: her papers promise to offer researchers insight into the planning and organizational work of one of our most notable civil and human rights leaders. This collection will open the door to pivotal meetings of civil and human rights activists in the 20th century—from community and farming programs in the 1940s to civil rights and desegregation activities in the 1960s and, later, antidrug and pro-family events in the 1990s. The Dorothy I. Height Papers will not only offer scholars a look into history but also serve as inspiration and a guide map for current and future activists. 


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