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Ecumenical leaders recall Dorothy I. Height
Washington, April 20, 2010 -- Dorothy Irene Height, who began her activist career as a teenager marching in New York's Times Square shouting, "Stop the lynching," was remembered Tuesday as one of the last great voices of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Height, 98, who led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades and continued to speak out on justice issues in her 90s, died early today.
"We remember Dr. Height both as a civil rights leader and as a tireless champion of church unity," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.
"History will not forget the contributions Dorothy Height made to the cause of freedom and justice," Kinnamon said. "We in the church will never forget the essential role her faith played in motivating her lifelong quest on behalf of persons of all ages, races and ethnicities. She knew that persons of faith can be an irresistible force for justice when we join hearts and hands, and she was a leader in that march throughout most of our lifetimes."
A United Methodist, Height was the first recipient in 2004 of the National Council of Churches J. Irwin Miller Award, named for one of the Council's lay presidents, Kinnamon noted.
Presenting the award was Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and NCC president in 2004.
"Friends, I cannot think of anyone who is more deserving of the J. Irwin Miller Award than Dorothy Height," Hoyt said at the time. "She is a living legend in the movement for civil rights in this nation. She has dedicated herself to improving the quality of life for African-American women and children. She is known internationally for her work for human rights for all. The world is truly a better place because of the work and witness of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height.
"Dr. Height is also an unassuming and gracious woman of God. When you first see her, impeccably dressed from head to toe, with soft smile, and a twinkle in her eye, you would not imagine what a powerful woman she has become."
Height was also honored by Church Women United in 1999 as a recipient of the CWU Human Rights Award.
"Dr. Height was a tremendous supporter of Church Women United since our beginning in 1941," said Djamillah Samad, Church Women United national executive in New York.
Height and her friend Eleanor Roosevelt, then First Lady, saw the organization as an important witness for peace on the brink of the Second World War. "We are going to miss her greatly. It was through the leadership and guidance of women like Dr. Height that working with social justice issues from a Christian perspective became and remains the focus of CWU today,” Samad said.
In 1937, while she was working at the Harlem YWCA, Height met famed educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of the National Council of Negro Women, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had come to speak at a meeting of Bethune's organization. Height eventually rose to leadership roles in both the council and the YWCA.
In 2006, National Council of Churches staff were invited to preview performances of a musical about the life of Dorothy Height, "If This Hat Could Talk." The "hat" referred to Height's wide-brimmed trademark hats that she wore throughout her life.
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