Thursday, April 22, 2010

"The Unheralded Seventh"

The New York Times reports that the great but unsung civil rights and women's rights leader Dorothy Height died on Tuesday at the age of 98. According to the Times, historians have referred often to the "Big Six" of the Civil Rights Movement, all male. They were: Dr. King, John Lewis, James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, and Whitney Young. Dorothy Height, in many people's eyes, was the Movement's "unheralded Seventh," because she worked so closely with all of these leaders on projects of national importance but rarely received anything like the credit they enjoyed. Like so many women in the Civil Rights Movement, she was encouraged to stay behind the scenes while charismatic and domineering males got all the accolades, but those who knew her, both male and female, understood her influence. Interestingly, she was also an ardent feminist who took an early lead role in that movement as well, but was often marginalized, not for her sex but for her race. Yet, as the Times reports, her lasting contribution to both movements was her drive to approach them as one united, integrated campaign for human freedom.

She claimed not to mind the lack of attention she received. She gladly ceded the limelight to her black colleagues and to her white sisters, not because they were more deserving or more eloquent or more persuasive, but because her goal was to struggle collectively for some future common good. If she could help people to get there by working tirelessly in the background, she would do so. She was freedom bound and she favored supporting any leader or any strategy that would expedite that all-important journey.

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