Dr. Dorothy Height, the matriarch of the civil rights movement, died today at the age of 98. Dr. Height stood with Dr Martin Luther King during his "I have a dream speech" and worked tirelessly as an activist until her last days.
Her contribution was invaluable in the shaping of black America and American society as a whole. Dr. Height provided an example of ceaseless dedication to a cause greater than oneself, and was a living, breathing demonstration of the formidable power of female leadership, especially for black women.
President Obama referred to Dr. Height as the "godmother" of the movement, going on to say that she "served as the only woman at the highest level of the civil rights movement -- witnessing every march and milestone along the way."
In the 60s, Height had to overcome gender prejudice in order to do her work. She was cropped out of photos because she was female and she was less well known than her male counterparts. Yet despite the challenges, she recognized the importance of women in black leadership and continued to push for that.
With Dr. Height's passing, I'm led to cast a critical eye on the current role of women in black leadership. Yesterday, I was browsing a popular African-American site which features political commentary. I was struck by the fact that the ratio of male to female commentators was approximately 10 to 1. It seems that some of the same challenges facing black women leaders are still in effect.
While there are a number of very dynamic and incredible black women shaping our world and having their say -- including Susan Rice, Majora Carter, Michelle Obama -- there are many, many more who have a lot to say yet are not saying it. Why is this? Listen to Dr Boyce Watkins and I discuss Dr. Height, the role of black women in activism and what holds women back from stepping up as leaders.
Dr. Height provides an example of the importance of female leadership. In particular, as the black community continues to look at the black agenda and addresses various challenges, we must not forget that women are part of that agenda and must continue to contribute to and be fully engaged in it. We must ensure that we have our place at the table and that our voices are heard, both within the community and outside of it.
We will have our voices heard only by using them, as Dr. Height used hers.