Dorothy Height: 'Godmother' Of Civil Rights

Legendary civil rights leader Dorothy Height died Tuesday morning, at age 98. She dedicated her life to empowering women and blacks, and led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades.

Height was born in Richmond, Va., and grew up near Pittsburgh. As a teenager, she won a scholarship to Barnard College in New York, only to find that the school had already admitted its quota of two blacks.

In 1963, as Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington, only one woman stood on the platform behind him: Dorothy Height. A lifelong champion of civil rights, Height organized a meeting the next day in which women in the movement could address racism and sexism.

Height had the ear of U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to Obama. President Obama paid homage to Height in a statement Tuesday, calling her a hero and "the godmother of the civil rights movement."

Roger Wilkins, former assistant Attorney General during the Johnson Administration and professor at George Mason University, remembers Height with great fondness. Wilkins' mother hired Height to work with her at the YWCA, in a unit on erasing racism and segregation.

Wilkins first met Height when he was 8-years-old, and jokes Height used their long relationship to her advantage. "She could always blackmail me," Wilkins tells NPR's Neal Conan, threatening "to tell people 'Little Roger' stories" if he wouldn't help her out.

Blanche Williams, founder of National Black Women's Town Hall Inc., saw Height as one of the women to "pattern [her] life by." Williams worked with Height on The Souls Of Black Girls, a film about the media impact on the self esteem of black women and other women of color.

At the time, Williams remembers, Height called the film "the answer to a prayer." Williams says she is saddened by the loss of Height, yet also energized and inspired by her legacy.

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