Dorothy Height, Civil Rights Activist, Dies at 98

Suzanne Murray

dorothy height
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Dorothy Height, often called the "matriarch of the civil rights movement," died this morning of natural causes. She was 98.

Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) for 40 years, until 1997. She was also among the coalition of African American leaders who pushed civil rights to the forefront of politics after World War II. She was a key figure in the struggle for desegregation, voting rights, employment opportunities, and public accommodations in the 1950s and '60s. Height continued to fight against racism throughout her life.

In a statement issued by the White House, President Obama said:

“Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Dorothy Height -- the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans. Ever since she was denied entrance to college because the incoming class had already met its quota of two African American women, Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality. She led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and served as the only woman at the highest level of the Civil Rights Movement -- witnessing every march and milestone along the way. And even in the final weeks of her life -- a time when anyone else would have enjoyed their well-earned rest -- Dr. Height continued her fight to make our nation a more open and inclusive place for people of every race, gender, background, and faith. Michelle and I offer our condolences to all those who knew and loved Dr. Height -- and all those whose lives she touched.”

In 1995, the NCNW became the only historic black organization on Pennsylvania Avenue, in close proximity to the Capitol. Oprah Winfrey paid off the mortgage a few years later.

Height said one of her proudest moments came when the organization hosted an inaugural viewing party for the first African American president.

"Having worked hard for civil rights and opportunities, I was excited," she said. "The fact that we won the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which eliminated legal segregation, made the country better not just for black people, but for white people too."

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