Dorothy Height, hailed as the “godmother of the civil rights movement” as a participant in historic marches with Martin Luther King Jr. and others, died Tuesday. She was 98.
Height led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. She continued actively speaking out into her 90s, but had been at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. for some time. The hospital said in a statement that she died there of natural causes.
President Barack Obama called her “the godmother of the civil rights movement” and a hero to many Americans, according to The Associated Press. Obama said in a statement that Height was the only woman at the highest level of the civil rights movement and witnessed “every march and milestone along the way.”
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.
Height was on the platform when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington.
Obama called her a hero, saying she “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.”
Friend and former U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman told CNN she was “deeply saddened” by Height’s death.
“She was a dynamic woman with a resilient spirit, who was a role model for women and men of all faiths, races and perspectives,” Herman said. “For her, it wasn’t about the many years of her life, but what she did with them.”
Height’s years of service span from Roosevelt to the Obama administration, the council said in a statement announcing her death and listing the highlights of her career.
Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 by President Clinton and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. She was among a handful of key African-American leaders to meet with Obama at the White House recently for a summit on race and the economy.
Her name is synonymous with the National Council of Negro Women, a group she led from 1957 to 1988, when she became the group’s chair and president emerita. She was also a key figure in the YWCA beginning in the 1930s.
Pictured above is Dorothy Height.