Our Daily Lives

Here's Why We Cherish the Memory of Dorothy Height

Monday, May 31, 2010

The late Dorothy I. Height insisted on African American women speaking their own minds. This Memorial Day, Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich pays tribute to a friend and mentor who leaves a bright torch for others to carry on.

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Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich with Dorothy Irene Height(WOMENSENEWS)--It's Memorial Day and Dorothy Irene Height, a highly decorated and revered national treasure--my friend and colleague of 25 years--tops the list of memories I want to keep alive.

As African Americans assert our claim as founders of the Memorial Day holiday, there is no more fitting way for African American women to celebrate this national day of remembrance than by acknowledging all that some of us owe to our dear late friend and mentor Height, president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women.

Height died this April after 98 years in the service of the highest values of citizenship, civil rights, youth achievement, black family celebration and women's advancement. She mentored and advised an intentional army of publicly accomplished, adult black women who now stand in the shadows of her history, prepared by her to wait and serve, in her tradition.

We know who we are even if we and our roles are not transparent or even visible to most Americans.

The voices of these women now rise in memory of the richness of our lived experiences and our growth as women, under her guidance.

She Speaks for Herself

"It is axiomatic that the African American woman has been most honestly reflected in the images which she has painted with her own words," Height wrote in the foreword to my recent book "Sound Bites of Protest," a compendium of my essays highlighting the power struggles facing black female leaders in contemporary public policy battles. "She, better than anyone, has integrated the legacy of centuries of experiences, virtually unknown to others who are not black women, into a rebuttal of contemporary challenges."

Height's foreword reflected her advice about how black women should approach our responsibilities to ourselves and to our missions in the public arena.

I called upon that advice recently in a public challenge to President Barack Obama by myself and other black female leaders to protest his administration's continued marginalization of black women on the lists of female candidates for the recent Supreme Court vacancies.

The Black Women's Roundtable, co-founded and co-convened by Height and Melanie Campbell, sent a letter to the president which emphasized: "As Dr. Height stated in our previous meeting with your administration, we believe it is time for African American women to be represented in all sectors of government--including the Supreme Court."

Our speaking out for ourselves, about ourselves, was rumored by some Washington insiders not to have been particularly well received by the nomination strategists. However, our letter correctly asserted that no African American woman had been on either of the short lists for the last two Supreme Court vacancies.

But no matter. This letter was signed by 28 distinguished black female leaders and followed exactly in the Height tradition of insisting that our own measured, civil, courageous but also public voices be heard. It is a tradition inherited from her by the letter's signators as well as many others whom she advised.

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