Dorothy Height: civil rights activist and author

Dorothy Height chronicled her lifelong fight against racism and sexism in her 2003 memoir "Open Wide the Freedom Gates."

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    One reviewer called Dorothy Height's memoir an "inspirational" read.
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Dorothy Height, who died this morning at the age of 98, spent more than 80 years battling for equal rights for African-Americans and for women. Her career took her from a close relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt to a place on the speaker's platform with Martin Luther King during his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech to a place of honor on the dais at Barack Obama's 2009 presidential inauguration.

Height served as president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997. She was also an executive of the Y.W.C.A. and one of the founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus. Height was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.

In 2003, Height published "Open Wide the Freedom Gates," a memoir detailing her lifelong struggle for equality. Height explained in an interview with Juan Williams on NPR that the book's title came from fellow crusader Mary McLeod Bethune, who once told Height, "The freedom gates are half ajar. We must pry them open."

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The New York Times called her book "a poignant short course in a century of African-American history." Anne Markowski, reviewing the memoir for Barnes & Noble, noted that "Height has rubbed elbows with W.E.B. Du Bois, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Langston Hughes; she has advised ten presidents and received countless awards." And yet, Markowski added, "one of the great charms of this memoir is its unassuming tone."

But perhaps the review that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel best captured the remarkable nature of Height's decades-long dedication to her cause. "The memoir reveals a woman with the capacity to learn and grow continuously," review Sally Tolan noted, calling Height "a woman passionate about doing good."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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