Dorothy Height and Pamela Gentry in the spring of 2009.
April 21, 2010
– On Tuesday Black American lost an icon when Dorothy Height, civil rights leader, activist, and educator died at 98 years-old. Height was born in 1912, when William Taft was president, the U.S. population was 95 million and a postage stamp cost two cents.
Height participated and witnessed American history and built a legacy for future generations.
It’s hard to imagine the political landscape of the early 20th century as compared to present day. Taft was faced with a tough election in 1912 facing two opponents; unemployment was 4.6 percent and the U.S. population was just over 95 million.
Just imagine, Height was 11 years old when Henry Ford decided to organize the Ford Motor Company in 1923. In her lifetime she witnessed more than 55 African Americans elected to Congress, the onslaught of the online world and the election of the first African-American president.
What a life!
Often we forget to look back and reflect on how far African Americans have traveled on their journey in American history. But that’s not the case with Height. She has always managed to keep tabs and always with a keen eye focused on how to build on every accomplishment.
Height started her career as a caseworker with the New York City Welfare Department. She also began a career as a civil rights activist when she joined the National Council of Negro Women.
Throughout her life she stood steadfast for equal rights for both African Americans and women, and in 1944 she joined the national staff of the YWCA. She served as the national president for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated from 1946- 1957. But her longest and most indelible contribution was to the National Council of Negro Women, where she served as president for 40 years.
Height was a trailblazer, and like others born in her generation, she was on a mission to make a difference.
Langston Hughes, the famous African-American poet laureate born in 1902 wrote his works in “Negro dialect” with a passion that expressed the life and strife of the American Negro at that time.
“I have the right to portray any side of Negro life I wish to,” Hughes once said. What Hughes expressed with pen and pad, composer and pianist Scott Joplin was able to put to music.
Joplin, a contemporary of Height will always be remembered for his classic piano ragtime song, “The Entertainer.” The quick-rhythm song became famous in 1973 when it was revived for the Oscar-winning film, “The Sting.”
Height’s contributions to the fabric of American history will leave an enduring imprint just like the words penned by Langston and the music composed by Joplin. She’ll be missed but never forgotten.