Dorothy Height, who crusaded for racial justice by standing up against lynching and rural poverty, passed away in April of 2010 at 98 years old.
Remembering ‘Godmother’ of Civil Rights, Dorothy Height
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
This morning brought word of the passing of a trailblazer. Dorothy Height is dead. She was 98 years old. Today the president of the United States called her the godmother of the civil rights movement. She led the National Council of Negro Women, but because she was a woman, she was often off to the side, behind the podium, behind the scenes. Ann Curry interviewed Dorothy Height years ago. Tonight she looks back on a life spent making a difference.
Reverend Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr.: (From file footage) I have a dream today.
ANN CURRY reporting:
Dorothy Height was one of the principle planners of the march on Washington on August 28th, 1963, which led to the Civil Rights Act.
Ms. DOROTHY HEIGHT: (From file footage) You are empowered when you feel that you can make a difference and you join hands to act that out.
CURRY: She continued her crusade by bringing black and white women together in meetings she called Wednesdays in Mississippi. The daughter of a nurse, who couldn't find work in white hospitals, and a self-employed contractor, Height remembered the first sting of prejudice from an encounter with a white schoolmate.
Ms. HEIGHT: (From file footage) She told me that she couldn't go to school with me because I was a nigger.
CURRY: What her mother told her set the stage for a life spent crusading for racial justice.
Ms. HEIGHT: (From file footage) She said, `You're a smart girl, you're a strong girl.' And so no matter what has happened, I found myself not getting bitter, but feeling, in the midst of all of this, I have to stand up.
CURRY: By standing up, she rallied against lynchings and rural poverty. She fought for better housing and community development. She counseled numerous US presidents on civil rights. You can see her face in photos with presidents and first ladies. A recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees, Dorothy Height also received the nation's highest civilian honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Often cited in speeches by President Obama, she was a special guest at his inauguration. She said she never thought she would live to see such a day.
(Beginning of clip from file footage)
CURRY: To all the young people who are listening now, what do you want to tell them?
Ms. HEIGHT: Keep struggling for jobs and freedom. I don't think we're going to get it by talking. And we're not going to get it just by the laws. We're going to have to take the hands and make the laws work.
CURRY: And when that day comes?
Ms. HEIGHT: And when that day comes, we'll be able to see, as Dr. King says, we're free at last.
CURRY: And you'll be up in heaven singing "Hallelujah"?
Ms. HEIGHT: I hope so.
(End of clip)
CURRY: Ann Curry, NBC News, New York.
The American civil rights movement was a mass protest movement against racial segregation and discrimination in the southern United States that came to national prominence during the mid-1950s. This movement had its roots in the centuries-long efforts of African slaves and their descendants to resist racial oppression and abolish the institution of slavery.
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