Manny Ceneta/Getty Images
Dorothy Irene Height, pictured in 2002, spent nearly 40 years leading the National Council for Negro Women. She died in April 2010 at age 98.
Dorothy Irene Height, pictured in 2002, spent nearly 40 years leading the National Council for Negro Women. She died in April 2010 at age 98. Manny Ceneta/Getty Images
February is Black History Month and Tell Me More observes the month with a series of short vignettes. In this installment, NPR reporter Allison Keyes shares her black history hero.
I'm Allison Keyes, a National Desk reporter here at NPR and occasional guest host of Tell Me More, and I think one of the most important figures in black history is Dorothy Height.
Wherever she went a train of admirers followed her as they would a queen.
Height spent almost ALL of her 98 years fighting for the empowerment of women and African-Americans.
And she was at the nucleus of the meetings which planned the direction of the Civil Rights Movement at a time when men were the public face of that battle.
This tiny dynamo — known for her always impeccable attire and stylish chapeaus — was already fighting against lynching when she was just in her 20s. Height spent more than 30 years with the YWCA and nearly 40 years with the National Council of Negro Women. She was also national president of the African-American sorority: Delta Sigma Theta Incorporated from 1947 to 1957.
In 2008, the year the first African American was elected president of the United States, Height told NPR that there is still unfinished business in civil rights.
We don't need the marches that we had in the past. But we need more consideration in looking at the boardroom tables and at the policies that are going on, looking at what's happening in industry, what's happening in terms of employment opportunities, housing and the like.
Height had the ear of U.S. Presidents — from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama. And she wanted the young people she worked with so passionately throughout her career to follow in her footsteps and serve others.