- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dorothy Height, the leading female voice of the 1960s civil rights movement and a participant in historic marches with Martin Luther King and others, died Tuesday. She was 98.

Miss Height, whose activism on behalf of women and minorities dated to the New Deal, led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. She continued actively speaking out into her 90s, often getting rousing ovations at events around Washington, where she was immediately recognized by the bright, colorful hats she almost always wore.

She died at Howard University Hospital, where she had been in serious condition for weeks.

In a statement, President Obama called her “the godmother of the civil rights movement” and a hero to Americans.

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“Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality … and served as the only woman at the highest level of the Civil Rights Movement — witnessing every march and milestone along the way,” Mr. Obama’s statement said.

It was the second death of a major civil rights figure in less than a week. Benjamin L. Hooks, the former longtime head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, died Thursday in Memphis at 85.

As a teenager, Miss Height marched in New York’s Times Square, shouting, “Stop the lynching.” In the 1950s and 1960s, she was the leading woman helping King and other activists orchestrate the civil rights movement, often reminding the men heading the movement not to underestimate their female counterparts.

One of Miss Height’s sayings was, “If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.” She liked to quote 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said that the three effective ways to fight for justice are to “agitate, agitate, agitate.”

Miss Height was on the platform at the Lincoln Memorial, sitting just a few feet from King, when he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963.

“He spoke longer than he was supposed to speak,” Miss Height recalled in a 1997 Associated Press interview. But after he was done, it was clear King’s speech would echo for generations, she said, “because it gripped everybody.”

She lamented that the feeling of unity created by the 1963 march had faded and that the civil rights movement of the 1990s was on the defensive and many black families were still not economically secure.

“We have come a long way, but too many people are not better off,” she said. “This is my life’s work. It is not a job.”

When Mr. Obama won the presidential election in November 2008, Miss Height told Washington TV station WTTG that she was overwhelmed with emotion.

“People ask me, did I ever dream it would happen, and I said, ‘If you didn’t have the dream, you couldn’t have worked on it,’” she said.

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