#WomenCrushWednesday: Dorothy Height, Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement | Sojourners

#WomenCrushWednesday: Dorothy Height, Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement

Dorothy Height, June 2008. Photo by Adrian Hood /CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s Women’s History Month, and every Wednesday we’ll be highlighting strong women from history on whom we have a collective social justice crush. Dorothy Height kicks things off.

President Obama called Dorothy Height “the godmother of the civil rights movement.” It’s a well-deserved title for the woman who began protesting against lynchings in the 1930s, served as the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years, and according to her, went to church six times every Sunday growing up.

One of the biggest ways that Height supported the civil rights movement was by recognizing when it fell short, especially when it came to the inclusion of women. Height, an award-winning orator herself, pushed her male counterparts to have a woman activist among the speakers at the March on Washington. They didn’t listen, making it clear to Height that her fellow activists "were happy to include women in the human family, but there was no question as to who headed the household."

Height joined the fight for women’s rights, living into one of her mottos: “If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.” In 1971, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus alongside Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and others.

Height is something of an unsung hero to both the civil rights and women’s rights movements, largely because of the sexism within the civil rights movement and the racism within the women rights movement. According to the New York Times, Height is “widely credited as the first person in the modern civil rights era to treat the problems of equality for women and equality for African-Americans as a seamless whole, merging concerns that had been largely historically separate.”

Heights’ work was as intersectional as it was creative: At the height of the civil rights era, she organized “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” a place for dialogue among black and white women from the North and South. She opened unlikely lines of communication in times of great polarization — something our politically divisive society needs to figure out how to do in the present day political climate.

Height, who died at the age of 98 in 2010, famously said, “I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom. … I want to be remembered as one who tried.”

She never stopped fighting for justice for people of color and women, and she usually did so while wearing a really cool hat. For her efforts, the “Dorothy Height Forever Stamp” is the latest edition to the black heritage stamp series.

I personally am looking forward to stamping my letters to congresspersons with a Dorothy Height stamp. Better take this request seriously, senator — the godmother of the civil rights movement is watching.

Editor's note: The photo on this article has been updated on March 4, 2021 because we were unable to determine if the original photo was of Dorothy Height.

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