06/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Farewell to Dorothy Height

Generally speaking, when an African American historical figure passes away, my somewhat younger Hispanic male colleague gives me that look. The look dangles somewhere between clueless and concerned, with a touch of embarrassment about our obvious cultural gap.
Frankly speaking, he never knows the dearly departed that I'm speaking of--when John Hope Franklin passed, I got the look. When Dr. Benjamin Hooks passed, I got the look. And yes, when Rev. Dr. Claude Wyatt passed, I got the look.

"Um, who's that?" he'll ask.

Today we lost our Dorothy Height, the Godmother of Civil Rights. And guess what?
My colleague knew exactly who Dorothy Height was:
"Oh no, the activist lady with the pretty hats?"
Yes, the lady with the pretty hats," I responded, thoroughly impressed.

Of course the impeccably dressed lady with the fancy hats would be so very memorable to him; she was so very memorable and important to so many that crossover notoriety was natural.

Dorothy Irene Height was born in Richmond, Virginia March 24, 1912, and at age four, the family relocated to Rankin, Pittsburgh.

Dorothy Height was a scholar blessed with exceptional oratory skills--she won a $1,000 scholarship in a national oratorical contest on the United States Constitution, sponsored by the Elks--and a fire in her belly that raged for justice.

In 1929, Height moved to Harlem to live with her sister and to attend New York University. She earned her bachelor and master's degrees in (four years) and did postgraduate work at Columbia University and the New York School of Social Work.

Height's warrior within awakened when she met Mary McLeod Bethune, the president and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, who invited her to become its executive secretary. In 1957, Height became the elected president of the National Council of Negro Women, and later joined the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, a group key to the organization of the March on Washington and other critical steps in the civil-rights movement.

For much of her adult life, Dorothy Height worked as a civil rights advocate desegregating the armed forces, preventing lynching, and bringing more justice and equality to the criminal justice system.

On Height's 92nd birthday, March 24, 2004, President George W. Bush presented Dorothy Height with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian and most distinguished award presented by the United States Congress.

A most deserved honor for a most distinguished life.
May the fire in her belly, the strength in her words, the revolution in her deeds and the love in her life's work live on.