- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame
Dorothy Height
Dorothy Height
1912 - 2010

Height has been a tireless leader in the struggle for human rights for nearly 70 years. She has made contributions through the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. While on the YWCA’s national staff (1944-1977), Height helped move the organization toward racial equality in its ranks and established the Center for Racial Justice in 1965. Educator Mary McLeod Bethune urged Height to join the NCNW in 1937 and became the young woman’s mentor. Height served as president of the NCNW (1957-1997) at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. She was often the only woman leader at pivotal events with such icons as Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins and A. Philip Randolph. Height worked with philanthropist Eleanor Roosevelt and later counseled presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton on civil, human and women’s rights issues. Height served as national president of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (1947- 1956) and in 1975 built on that sorority’s international presence by starting a relief program in Africa.

Daughter of a politically active building contractor and a nurse, Dorothy Irene Height grew up in Rankin, Pennsylvania where she attended integrated public schools. When her white best friend stopped playing with her because she was black, nine-year-old Dorothy began to understand the damage discrimination could do. Height earned Bachelor and Master degrees from New York University before beginning her career of activism as a social worker in Harlem.

Though retired, Height remains an advocate for black women, men and children. The Dorothy I. Height Leadership Institute trains black women for community and national activism. In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. In March 2004, as Height celebrated her 92nd birthday, President George W. Bush awarded her the Congressional Gold Medal, the most distinguished recognition given by Congress to individuals.