University of Maryland Honors Civil Rights Activist
For Seven-Decade Struggle
Dorothy Height’s fight for civil rights and gender equity began with anti-lynching protests in New York in the 1930s. The Richmond, Va., native worked on voter registration drives in the South during the 1950s and was at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s side when he delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963.
Now 89 and a resident of the District of Columbia, Height says the struggle for civil rights has changed, but it hasn’t stopped. Sit-ins and protest marches have been replaced by lobbying for legislation. The issues of desegregation and voting rights have evolved into the pursuit of economic opportunity, educational equality and solutions to racial profiling.
Something else has changed, too, Height says: The “righteous indignation” that drove the movement in the 1960s is missing today.
“The climate that was there is not there now,” she said last month during a ceremony at the University of Maryland School of Law honoring her work. “We’ve had our discussions of ‘One America,’ but we don’t have that vigorous drive. I often wonder, where would our country be if the vigor placed in fighting slavery and in the women’s movement had kept pace? Where would we be?”
The University System of Maryland awarded Height the sixth annual Frederick Douglass Award, honoring individuals who exemplify such ideals of the 19th century abolitionist as freedom, equality, justice and opportunity.
“Your life’s work has made it imperative that we recommit ourselves to these ideals,” said Gov. Parris Glendening, who declared the day of the ceremony, July 17, as “Dorothy Height Day” in Maryland. “We still have extraordinary targets that are less obvious, but no less damaging.”
Dr. Donald Langenberg, chancellor of the university system, paid tribute to Height as “a dignified, forceful leader who articulated the concerns of the voiceless” and “worked relentlessly for civil rights, wherever and whenever she was needed.”
Height’s work is not finished. She still is chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women in Washington.
Height joins such past recipients as NAACP president Kweisi Mfume and Parren J. Mitchell, Maryland’s first Black congressman.
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