Civil Rights Activist Dorothy Height Changed U.S. `for Better,' Obama Says

President Barack Obama eulogized civil rights activist Dorothy Height as a woman whose life’s work helped “change the country for the better.”

Height, who died April 20 at the age of 98, had “an unambiguous record of righteous work,” Obama said at today’s funeral for the woman who worked alongside the late Martin Luther King Jr. in the struggle for equal rights.

“What she cared about was the cause, the cause of justice,” Obama said during the service at Washington National Cathedral.

Height was president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1998 and was a major voice in the fight for civil rights in the 1960’s. Height was also a founding board member of The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing African-American participation in society, and the Black Women’s Roundtable.

Obama ordered all U.S. flags be flown at half-staff in Height’s honor today, including those at U.S. embassies and military facilities.

Height began her career as a social worker at the Young Women’s Christian Association and in 1938 she was selected by Eleanor Roosevelt to plan a World Youth Conference.

Height worked to end lynching and to desegregate the armed forces alongside other civil rights leaders including King, John Lewis, and Roy Wilkins. She was also a champion of women’s rights.

“I think I was born a feminist because all of my life I’ve been proud to be a girl and to be a woman,” she said in a 2003 interview on PBS television. “But it was a very significant experience to be the woman member among those men.”

Height was on the stage when King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

Height said she experienced discrimination first-hand when she was rejected from Barnard College in 1929 because of a racial quota. In 1980 Height accepted an official apology from the New York women’s college and its highest honor, the Barnard Medal of Distinction.

In 1994 Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton and in 2004 she was given the Congressional Gold Medal.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at

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