the godmother of the civil rights movement an indomitable pioneer

It isn't often that the news cycle has an opportunity to reflect on the USA’s civil rights movement. So it’s refreshing to be able to pay tribute to the strength and courage of some of the defenders of that time now and again.

And there were few that were as prominent as Dorothy Height. Although not a name which is as easily recognisable as Rosa Parks or Dr King perhaps, Dorothy Height was a rights defender of indomitable strength whose name aptly befitted her as she ascended to the highest level of the rights movement.

Described by President Obama as the ‘godmother of the civil rights movement’, Dr Height played a major role in pushing for racial and gender equality in the 50s and 60s in the USA.

When she was born in 1912, Dorothy Height was denied the right to vote because of her gender. During her lifetime, it wasn’t just her gender which denied her rightful positions.

As the Washington Post pointed out, Dorothy Height wasn’t able to go to the college of her choice because it had reached its quota for black students – two.  Resolute, Ms Height went instead to New York University where she excelled and graduated in three years rather than four.    

Through her indomitable spirit and fearless attitude, Dr Height went on to become ‘one of the pioneering voices’ of the civil rights movement.  She was president for 40 years of the National Council of Negro Women and the only woman in the highest circle of the civil rights movement – and the only woman to share the platform with Dr Martin Luther King at the time of his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Before she died, Dorothy Height was honoured by Presidents as she received two of the USA’s highest honours – the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.

Richard Adams’ tribute to Dr Height on the Guardian’s blog platform makes reference to one of Dr Height’s favourite quotes from abolitionist Frederick Douglass, ‘who said that the three effective ways to fight for justice are to ''agitate, agitate, agitate.''’

I’m sure that there are rights defenders around the world who can fully identify with that. I think certainly we at Amnesty are able to. You can join us in 'agitating' by taking action for Nepalese woman rights defender Rita Mahato who's received death threats for her work.  

Dr Height ran a tireless race for justice and equality in the USA. The tributes clearly show that she was a remarkable woman and rights defender of great tenacity.  No doubt her life and struggle will serve both an inspiration and encouragement for women’s rights defenders around the world.

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