History books often forget to mention Dorothy Height. Here's why they shouldn't.
You probably haven’t heard of Dorothy Height, but you should definitely get to know who she was.
An often-forgotten figure in civil rights history, Height helped change the lives of black Americans and women everywhere. Now, she is being honored with her very own postage stamp in 2017. Height joins an impressive list of honorees in the U.S. Postal Service's Black Heritage stamp series, including Harriet Tubman, Alvin Ailey, and James Baldwin.
Because of Height’s gender, she, like many other women during the civil rights era, is often left out of history books. But ever the modest citizen, Height focused on the cause as opposed to the accolades: "You will accomplish a great deal if you do not worry about who will get the credit,” Height wrote in her 2003 memoir.
During Height’s 98 years on Earth, the unsung hero did a lot of amazing things. But four achievements really stand out:
1. She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) for 40 years.
Height led the nonprofit from 1957 to 1998, dedicating her leadership to advancing opportunities for women of color. Height was placed in the role during the peak of the Civil Rights movement, a daunting task during a time of racial violence. She offered up the NCNW headquarters as a meeting place for national organizers and participants in the historic 1963 March on Washington.
She also helped organize and launch a project called “Wednesday in Mississippi.” The successful project brought racially mixed groups of women together to visit rural areas of Mississippi and encourage voter registration among black citizens and foster dialogue across various groups of people. During Height’s tenure, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
2. Height helped form the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom organization.
In 1989, Height, along with 16 African-American women and one man signed a declaration that supported pro-choice reproductive rights. In 1990, Height was also essential in creating a reproductive rights organization as a way for African-American women to show their support for Roe v. Wade.
3. She also helped found the Women's Political Caucus.
Working tirelessly to create systems where women could empower themselves, Height helped found the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), a grass roots organization designed to increase women's participation in the political process. Found in 1971, the organization focuses on recruiting, vetting, and training women who are looking to get elected in local and national elections.
4. Oh, and she counseled presidents on how to best help black women too.
After being barred from attending Barnard College because of a racial quota (a university Height later received an honorary degree from), Height studied at New York University and Columbia University and obtained a bachelor's degree and a master's degree.
Her education and work ethic was recognized by many in the national government, leading Height to meet with political figures and civil rights leaders like Eleanor Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Since then, she's counseled a number of presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bill Clinton, on how to best assist black women during a changing world. Height was likely one of the first people to understand the concept of intersectionality, and she worked to expand alliance among people with various identities and backgrounds because of that.
Height's life shows us that the work of fighting for a better America is never over, but always necessary.
Her incredible accomplishments deserve more recognition than they've received, and this postage stamp honor is a step towards doing so.