Dorothy Height: Advocate and Leader in Civil Rights

Categories: Mary Mcleod Bethune

Who is the woman that has been given the powerful nickname of Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement? When looking for a topic for my history connections paper I wanted to write about a person of color who was significant in social work or a leader in the social work movement. I did not even consider the possibility that a woman of color would’ve had such an impact in the social work community. With that in mind imagine my surprise when I stumble upon Miss.

Dorothy Height. After reading everything that she accomplished in her lifetime. She was an advocate for many good causes, and had a helping hand in created many beneficial programs and centers. Everything Miss Dorothy Height accomplished was for the greater good.

The Story of Dorothy Height

Miss. Dorothy Heights was an exceptional person, even in her youth. When she was a child doctors told her that wouldn’t live past the age of 16, because she had a severe case of asthma.

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Miss Height lived to be the admirable age of 89. During her high school years Miss. Height began to show her true talent of being a very well spoken orator. She was a very proficient orator during school, and this talent landed her an Elks sponsorship of $1000 in a national oratorical contest. She planned to use that money to go to Barnard College, unfortunately when she applied to that school they did not admit any African Americans. The next school she applied to and eventually got into was New York University (1932).

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Miss. Dorothy Height graduated with a bachelor degree in education and a master’s degree in educational psychology. She was very accomplished in her younger days, and everything she did would eventually aid her in all that advocated and fought for.

As soon as Miss. Dorothy Height got out of school she went straight to work, when she started in the workforce it was right around the Depression era when her skilled were vital. Her first job was a caseworker in the New York welfare department of Harlem, New York. In addition to being a caseworker Miss. Height joined the staff of the Harlem Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and later became a leader (1937). Through this position she encouraged the integration of YWCA facilities nationwide and constructed diverse programs. When working at the YWCA she advocated for better working conditions for black domestic workers. As for what she has to show for Miss Height created a Center for Racial Justice in 1965. Thanks to everything she had accomplished so far, Miss. Height was one of the ten people chosen by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to take part in planning the World Youth Conference. While working on that project with the First Lady, Miss Height also had the pleasure of meet Mary McLeod Bethune, and thus became involved with the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). Mrs. Bethune worked very closely with Miss. Height and could even be described as her mentor, and they worked together all the way until Miss Bethune passed away. Despite her untimely death Miss Bethune left quite the impression on Miss. Height, which inspired her to keep working and helping those who needed help.

Miss Dorothy Height was a very well-rounded, and involved person, she also held multiple positions. As previously stated she worked with the NCNW, YCWA, and the World Youth Conference. However the list doesn’t stop there, Miss Height was a founding member of the Council for the United Civil Rights Leadership. She was even described as one of the big six of the Civil Rights Movement, along with Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, and others, which is what inspired the nickname Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement. As for the positions she held throughout her life, she was the Emma Ransom house assistant director, Phillis Wheatley House executive director, national president of Delta Sigma Theta (1957) and vice president for three years, president of the NCNW, was a consultant on African affairs to the secretary of state, on the President’s committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, and the Status of women. As anyone can see Miss Heights probably had a quite impressive resume throughout her life. Nonetheless having all these accomplishments mean nothing if one doesn’t use their platform properly. Miss Heights doesn’t need to worry about that because she used her platform for good.

When describing Miss Dorothy the word advocate is going to be used without a doubt, because that was a major part of her life and her story.

Current Connection

As anyone can see Miss Dorothy Height did a lot and cultivated many things, however how does that relate or correlate to anything that happens in today?

Miss. Dorothy was one of the 16 women, including Maxine Waters, who started the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom (AAWRF) organization. The goal for this group was to change the idea that for African-American women abortion is not a choice. Back when this organization was first getting started there was an idea that African-American women were not able to think for themselves, and therefore unable to make the decision to get an abortion. It’s hard enough that African-American women had to deal with rape and the other forms of abuse, but they also had to deal with marginalization. African-American women had enough so they decided to stand up and fight for their rights, they did so by releasing a declaration brochure that supported pro-choice. To tie everything together, this connects to today’s issues because abortion has been a hot topic as of recent due to the elections. The question of pro-life versus pro-choice has been fluttering around for awhile now, and thanks to AAWRF African-Americans are able to have a say in the matter. Even if all the credit cannot go to AAWRF they still deserve the recognition because without their impact, the African-American female population would probably have a ways to go before they were taken seriously.

In conjunction with African-American women not being taken seriously in medical settings. As of late there has been a growing awareness of how African-American women have been treated in hospitals and by their doctors. It was first brought to attention by Serena Williams, when she shared her story of how she was on the actual brink of death when she was giving birth to her baby. It was later revealed that when she said she was in pain the doctor did not take her seriously. There has been a belief among doctors that African-American women can withstand higher amounts of pain than other races. That is a dangerous mentality to have as a doctor, because people put their lives in the doctor’s hands.

Similar to most great advocates, Miss Dorothy Height mainly focused on a few topics when making a difference. Her primary focus was African-American women, and her secondary focuses included; lynching, unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. Some of those topics may seem outdated or not as important in today’s era, but these are all issues today.

It can be inferred that lynching was one of the first topics that Miss Dorothy decided to tackle. The fact that lynching was one of her first projects shouldn’t be much of shock considering there were at least 30 reported lynchings during her childhood. If it happened so often it's easy to understand why she decided to take a stand against this. People today also take stands against lynching. Unfortunately African-Americans are still getting lynched, and even though there are not as many happening the fact that any are happening at all is awful. The most recent lynching was early November, 24 year old Danye Jones was found hanging tree. The fact that this is happening is severely alarming, especially for the African-American community. Miss Dorothy began speaking out on the issue when she was in high school. As previously stated, she was an amazing orator and did well at many competitions. At these competitions she decided to use her platforms to speak on the issue at hand to bring more awareness. Granted I’m sure she didn’t get too far seeing as she was a young African American girl at an integrated high school. The point is that she wanted to do something to change how things were even at a young age and that speaks volumes.

Another topic Miss Dorothy wanted to improve was the unemployment for African American women. The unemployment rate as a whole has never been steady or reliable especially since momentous events such as the Great Depression and the Recession took place and really changed how things were in terms of the labor force.

Voter awareness was another topic she advocated for, because as everyone knows every vote counts and is important. There were many setbacks for African-Americans and African-American women. Besides the ridiculous rules that were put in to keep African-Americans from voting, there were other way to keep the black votes down. Miss Dorothy did her part through the NCNW. The NCNW supported voter registration in the South and provided aid when necessary.

Concluding Insights

When picking a topic for my history connections, I have absolutely no regrets in choosing Miss Dorothy Heights. Learning so much about her makes me feel proud to be an African-American woman. Reading everything she did makes me feel inspired to make a difference in my society, and that is because she wasn’t anyone special when she started speaking out and making changes she was just an average girl who went to school and tried to get an education. Looking at her now she was very accomplished, held many positions, created and sat on many committees.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Dorothy Height: Advocate and Leader in Civil Rights. (2022, Feb 28). Retrieved from

Dorothy Height: Advocate and Leader in Civil Rights essay
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