Friday, April 23, 2010

Civil Rights Icon Deserved More Recognition

Video: Dorothy Height On Brown V. Board!

Civil Rights Icon Deserved More Recognition
It's A Shame Many Black Folks Don't Know Of Height's Legacy
April 22,2010

Living nearly a century must be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you get to see the fruit of your labors ripen.

On the other, you also see so much of the fruit that rots on the vine.
That thought crossed my mind last January when I watched Dorothy I. Height, a civil rights icon, unveil the "Freedom's Sisters" exhibit at DuSable Museum.

The traveling exhibit featured 20 African-American women, including Height, who have made significant contributions to advance civil rights.

Although approaching her 98th birthday and confined to a wheelchair, Height was as sharp as ever.
I couldn't believe I was looking at a woman who had retired as head of the National Council of Negro Women 23 years ago.

Height had strategized the civil rights movement alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and counseled every president -- going back to Dwight Eisenhower -- on civil rights issues.

In 2004, President George W. Bush presented Height with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress.

Yet there she was -- in living color -- on the South Side of Chicago, decked out in a crisp suit and a Sunday hat.

It was an honor to be in the same room with Height.
Under-Recognized Achiever

Admirers snapped pictures with their cell phones, while professional photographers tried to capture her every 

But given her prominence in the civil rights movement, the turnout wasn't nearly what it should have been.
And that points to an ongoing problem.

If black people don't honor these civil right leaders with their presence and their respect, then who will honor them?

Even a second-tier rump shaker with a good voice would have drawn a bigger crowd.
But if Height was disappointed, she didn't show it.

When I am face to face with people who have devoted their lives to improving the quality of life for people like me, I wonder what they think about what's going on with black folks now.

Height had been optimistic about the future of the black family, even in the face of statistics that show so many black families are losing ground.

Worst yet, in cities like Chicago, black teens are killing each other over gangs and drugs.
"We have come a long way, but we have a much longer way to go," she told me.

During a 1993 visit to Chicago for the kickoff of the Black Family Reunion, Height was on a panel that discussed the violence issue.

"It's not enough to say, 'Somebody needs to stop it' " she said then.

"We usually think of more police, more correctional institutions. We say 'they need to do something.' What we feel is we are the 'they.' "
A woman ahead of her time

Despite her strong leadership skills, Height often had to take a back seat to the men who led the civil rights movement.

For instance, although she was given a prominent role on the platform at the 1963 March on Washington, Height failed to persuade the organizers that a woman should have something to say.
However, as head of the National Council of Negro Women, Height was free to speak her mind.

"We should set our own goals, define our success, establish our plans, determine how to use all of our many strengths. We cannot rely on someone else to do it for us. We must do it ourselves," she said.
That is a message that a lot of young women need to hear today.

Height was a woman before her time.

While so many other women were juggling husband, children and work like a circus performer, Height chose the Oprah way.

"Call me Doctor or Miss or Ms., but please don't call me Mrs." Height told another interviewer. "I don't want to miss anything."
She did not.

In its heyday, the National Council of Negro Women -- an umbrella for national and community-based organizations --represented 4 million women.

In 1997, the council purchased a building on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House.
Height was one of the leaders who helped change the course of black history.
We were blessed that she lived a full and purposeful life.

On Height's passing Tuesday, I can't help but hope God did not break the mold.

More Civil Rights Movement On W.E. A.L.L. B.E. :

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