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Dorothy Irene Height attends the 2002 Uncommon Height Gala in Washington, DC.
I hit the gym before heading to work today and was pulling through an incline on the treadmill when I saw the news on the overhead televisions: civil rights icon Dorothy Height had died.
I was more pensive than sad to get that news, even though I knew for weeks that she was ill and had been hospitalized. I have felt some kinship with her since the late 1980s. That’s when I pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. – or as we’re fond of saying: “the mighty red and white.”
There was no way to become a part of Delta without knowing the names and accomplishments of the national presidents, and Dorothy Irene Height was the 10th. She was a force for women’s rights, human rights, and civil rights. And while many see these movements as one cause, Dr. Height would compartmentalize a political right then go on to seek redress or a legal remedy for each.
Height was the leading female voice of the 1960s civil rights movement, working alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Before that she had also worked with presidents and first ladies to advance the plight of others. And her legacy — long before she passed — was serving others and urging them to do the same.
You knew she was a big figure not just for her circle of potentates. Actually it was the thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) who clamored to meet and take photos with her for a brag book to be admired by friends or sorority sisters. You felt honored just to greet her despite knowing that it was highly improbable that she would ever remember you.
I was gladly in that position last summer while awaiting the arrival of guests for afternoon tea at a Washington hotel. As I stood in my cute suit and cuter hat all of the ooo-ing and ahhing and fuss was being made just yards away from me. When I looked more closely, I gladly discovered why: there, regal as always in her cute suit and way cute hat, was Dorothy Irene Height — an inspiration, an advocate, a soror.