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Dorothy Height: Great Leaders & Their Lessons for Today

Dorothy Height

Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals.  {Tweet this}

N ot many people from my generation can say that they have encountered a Civil Rights icon. I don’t know how I got so lucky.

When I was in college I was a part of a group that exposed young people to great leaders through the Heart of America Foundation (good people!). They taught me that leadership and service are married together when you really want to change the world. The Heart of America also taught me that being altruistic is not related to a profession or industry and that genuinely caring about others was a key to finding real meaning in life. During our times together, the founders gave us special insights. That day my special treat was Dorothy Height.

To be honest I didn’t know who Dorothy Height was; I was just 20 at the time. I saw before me a frail-framed woman of old age. She came with a helper and plopped slowly to her chair at the front of our room.

I no idea of the depth of her influence in American history, but as she began to speak I would quickly come to appreciate her sacrifice for my ability to be educated, motivated, integrated, and able to pursue God openly. She provided extensive leadership to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s, particularly with African-American women who experienced even greater discrimination than their male counterparts. She served with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and advised every U.S. President since Roosevelt. She was often described as one of the most influential women in American history during the 60s.


I absolutely love this quote from a magazine article done on her life:

She [Dorothy height]  never once compromised who she was to suit the setting whether that setting was the White House’s gilded Oval Office or the rundown community room of an inner-city housing project; she never once downplayed her femininity or soft-shoed her purpose.
Here was a woman—without the status of wealth or race or a husband or birthright to impart—who literally had a seat at the table of a near-century’s worth of history, and she was all too often the only woman, of any hue, at that table.

Imagine her surrounded by the architects of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, John Lewis—all those opinions, all that testosterone….and Height, in her hat, pearls, and proper white gloves.

Truly Dorothy stood in the face of tremendous opposition and knew what it meant to accomplish something bigger than herself. We have much to learn from this amazing woman who formed history the way we now experience it.


W.I.F.M.  {What’s In It For Me?}

Personal application-iconOne of the most common obstacles of leadership is to study other leaders only to assume that we can never do or be what great leaders are. You can read more about this idea by reading this post. The reality is that every great leader began the same way you did- with a myriad of life choices.

The reality is that we often get only one glimpse of great leadership. We read a book, hear a moving message, or read about a major accomplishment. We don’t often hear of the hardships and rejections that great leaders face on their way to the top. If you are willing to learn from the best and brightest, then you too are on the way to the top. Perhaps, I will be featuring your amazing leadership soon. So let’s not measure our middle with someone else’s end. {Tweet This}


So what life & leadership lessons does  Dorothy Height offer to us today?

We follow in the footsteps of Great leaders like her. Here are the ways we can make personal application:

    • Commit to a Cause. What I love about the accounts of Dorothy Height is that she was dedicated to the cause of racial inequality from her youth to death. She was committed. In our age commitment is hard to come by. Reading her story led me to ask: What are you committed to? What moves you so greatly that you could literally do it everyday? Researchers are beginning to find the repercussions of our digital age on how we live. One of the most serious downsides is a lack of focus and attention. As leaders, this cannot be true of our passion for the issues we care about. Are you committed to something?


  • Be Brave Enough to Play Your Part. I wonder if Dorothy Height feared what we she might give up in order to play her role in history… a safe life, a career, a family, social acceptances. Yes, in playing her part, there was a cost to pay but there was also a great reward. Sometimes our role doesn’t look glamorous; Sometimes the costs seem to outweigh the benefits. Either way, we have a part to play. I once heard a pastor talk about the Sunday school teacher who taught Billy Graham- what an important part to play. Thank goodness that teacher didn’t wait to know that God had entrusted them with Billy Graham before giving it their all! The part we play in the grand scheme of life should be bigger than ourselves whether we see it at the time or not.  

How are you inspired by Dorothy Height? What lessons of life and/ or leadership will you exercise on account of her story?



About Tieshia Moore

Author, speaker, leadership guru, life-long learner, and church lovin' gal. Married to the love of my life @mrdamonmoore. We serve as Pastors in Eastern NC.

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