By Nicole C. Lee, NNPA Columnist –
Dr. Dorothy Irene Height was a civil rights giant and we must be knowledgeable about her accomplishments in order to move forward. She received countless number of awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for a lifetime of contributions to fight to eliminate humanity's burdens.
She was refused entry to Barnard College, because it had reached it’s quota for black students (which was two).
Nevertheless, Dr. Height went on to break barriers in national institutions and international arenas. In the early 1950s she became the head of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). In that role she so often found herself to be the "only woman in the room", a weight that she carried with assertiveness, poise and grace.
Dr. Height understood the connection of domestic and international struggles for liberation worldwide. Through NCNW, Dr. Height worked for solutions to the struggles women and their families face all over the world. Her tireless efforts is apparent in many African nations. Under Dr. Height's leadership the NCNW has worked with national women's organizations in Benin, Eritrea, and Senegal on programs which support the improvement of women's social and economic conditions, particularly in the rural areas.
She was a founding Board member of TransAfrica and remained a close advisor of the institution until her death. Our tribute to her reads, in part, "She stood on the front lines at TransAfrica's inception to fight apartheid in South Africa and human injustice in Haiti. Whether it was to support South Africans' struggle to attain freedom, or Nigerians' fight against the military regime of Abacha, or Haitians' opposition to the dictatorship of Duvalier, Dr. Height was there with her passionate, gentle counsel. She was, and is, one of the African World's most noted liberators." We all can see Dr. Height's accomplishments which include desegregation, federal civil rights legislation and a societal shift towards justice and freedom.
Like a charmed grandmother, she attended all the events in support of civil and human rights organizations. Because of her deep abiding commitment to the causes of today, she kept calendar that would have put us all to shame. The last time I saw Dr. Height I was at the NCNW building giving a report on the situation in Haiti post earthquake. Ever the organizer, she was so concerned that we not take our eye off of Haiti, even when the cameras moved on.
As I said, Dr. Height understood the connection of domestic and international struggles for liberation worldwide. As the immigration debate in Arizona is heating up, now in her bodily absence, I find myself using her work as an inspiration as I acknowledge the importance of unity within the black community on this issue. Undocumented immigrants aren't taking our jobs; corporations are.
The Latino and Black communities united could be a positive force for change in our country.
Yet, we have never supported one another the way we could.
Dr. Height spent a lifetime raising these tough issues with the powers that be. Her lesson to us is to take up the struggles even when they seem impossible.
Undoubtedly, Dr. Height would have been in the front for the fight for justice for the most vulnerable. The Arizona law targeting undocumented immigrants is a slap in the face to ALL that we as people of color have gained in this country. A law that allows people to be stopped and harassed by the police because they might "look illegal" is an abomination. The people of this country must condemn this type of measure and work twice as hard to ensure that there is a dignified path to citizenship for those that are undocumented and a new U.S. foreign policy that ensures that the causes of mass migrations are dealt with.
Human and civil rights leaders of all races must lead this fight.
Nicole C. Lee is the president of TransAfrica Forum