Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Honor of Dorothy Height on Her Birthday

Guest Blogger Alicia Barrett, NWPC Intern

Recounting the plight of Black women in the United States reveals a complex and continuous battle against racial and gender discrimination. Their stories are compelling and their voices resonate with power and resilience, but as the daughter of Caribbean parents, the history of Black women in America was not a topic often discussed but rather learned and appreciated over time. It was not until college that I learned about Black feminism and the role Black women played in the creation of institutions and organizations that demanded equality throughout the 19th and 20th century. As I became aware of the unique struggle they faced, I discovered the stories of so many Black women who, in their fight for racial and gender equality, have contributed greatly to the social welfare of all Americans. One such woman is Dorothy Height.
Today, March 24, marks the birthday of Dorothy Height, an inspirational African American woman leader and advocate for social justice in America. She is a heroine for juxtaposing the struggles of the Women’s and African American rights movements and bringing it to National attention. Her legacy will forever represent a tireless dedication to improving human rights for all.  In the context of social, economic and political barriers, her legacy is remarkable as it shows the potency a woman can have despite the obstacles she may face.    

Dorothy Height’s civil rights advocacy began in the 1930’s as she fought to end segregation and combat the high rate of lynching facing African American communities. Like other African American women activists, the driving force behind Dorothy Height’s social activism was her religious faith. Height became an integral leader of the United Christian Youth Movement of North America and in 1944 began a thirty-three year term on the National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Association.  With the YWCA, Dorothy traveled around the world as a pioneer for humanitarianism, stressing the significance of investing in public service as a way to improve society. The late 1950’s and 60’s marked the peak of Dorothy’s career as a civil rights advocate. By 1957, Dorothy had become president of the National Council of Negro Women, serving for forty-one years and as Chair and President Emerita. Although not often mentioned when recounting the Civil Rights Movement, Dorothy helped organize powerful teams of women who traveled to Mississippi in a movement that became known as ‘Wednesdays in Mississippi.’ The group helped to create an open forum for diverse women who also worked to combat segregated school systems in Mississippi even after Brown v. Board of Education. In 1960 Dorothy Height was the only woman in the United Civil Rights Leadership group alongside prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Whitney M. Young.
In 1971, Dorothy Height was one of the many outstanding feminist women, joining Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm and Gloria Steinem, who founded the National Women’s Political Caucus. For the next three decades, her leadership in the National Council of Negro Women led to efforts to strengthen women and the Black family.
Dorothy Height was a powerful crusader of human rights for all. There is a sense of enduring activism that resonates when recounting her life journey. She has left an influential legacy because, through her own experiences, she has shown that women play an integral role in the social progressiveness that now defines America.
 As a young Black woman in today’s society, the ongoing plight of the African American community and women is a unique and difficult struggle within the feminist movement, and for me felt on a personal scale. The continued hardships of disproportionate marginalization are indeed disheartening but, as Dorothy Height shows, nevertheless surmountable. In order to move forward, extensive social activism must be maximized. This is only possible if we learn and share with others the efficacy of a woman’s role and power in public service.

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