Dorothy Height to Receive 6th Annual Frederick Douglass Award July 17
July 9, 2001
Civil Rights Pioneer Dorothy Height to Receive Sixth Annual USM Regents'
Frederick Douglass Award July 17
University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents Chairman Nathan A.
Chapman Jr. announced today that Dorothy Irene Height, chair and president
emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in Washington, D.C., and
an internationally recognized leader of the civil rights movement, will
receive the University System of Maryland Board of Regents' annual Frederick
Douglass Award during a special ceremony on Tuesday, July 17 at 11 a.m. in
Westminster Hall, 519 W Fayette St., adjacent to the University of Maryland
School of Law.
Speakers at the event will include Leronia A. Josey, member of the USM Board
of Regents; Thelma T. Daley, past national president of Delta Sigma Theta
sorority; and USM Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg. Gov. Parris N. Glendening
will deliver greetings from the state, and Chairman Chapman will present the
award to Dr. Height. Frederick Douglass IV, professor at Morgan State
University and a direct descendent of Douglass, will provide a dramatic
reading from the latter's work. Music will be provided by the UMBC Gospel
Choir from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. David J. Ramsay,
president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, will welcome the audience.
"Dr. Height provided leadership to the civil rights movement before it was
even recognized as such," Chapman said. "She was there when the Depression
bore down hard on working-class African-Americans, she was there when Brown v.
Board of Education gave us new hope, and she was there when the movement
broadened in the 1960s and '70s to speak to all Americans suffering from
oppression. She achieved much in her life, and we wish to thank her for her
hard work, diligence, and endurance - indeed, she is still doing great
things today after half a century in the movement. She is a worthy inheritor
of the legacy of Maryland's own Frederick Douglass."
Dr. Height was born in Richmond, Va. in 1912, but grew up near Pittsburgh in a
household where volunteerism prevailed. In those days, blacks from the
southern states were migrating north to jobs in the steel mills. Height's
mother and father, a nurse and building contractor respectively, helped these
families settle in, thus instilling in her a sense of responsibility and
Dr. Height earned both bachelor's and master's degrees in educational
psychology from New York University in four years and graduated in 1933 -
the height of the Depression. She then turned her attention to social work in
New York City, later working for the Young Women's Christian Association
(YWCA). During those years, she also was active in community service and
religion, and eventually became one of the first leaders of the United
Christian Youth Movement.
From her position in the church and at the YWCA in Harlem, she spanned gaps
between the city's impoverished ethnic groups and the government,
spotlighting the plight of unemployed domestic workers for national figures
such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Langston Hughes.
Dr. Height's successes did not escape notice by the leadership of the NCNW.
In 1937, she was approached to conduct committee work for the organization, an
affiliation of civic, education, labor, community, church, and professional
institutions headquartered in Washington. By 1957, she was its president.
Under the guidance of educator and NCNW founder Mary McLeod Bethune, she
organized voter registration drives in the South, testified repeatedly before
Congress on social issues, and worked tirelessly on the more mundane tasks of
the civil rights movement, such as jobs programs and food drives. She became
an international leader in the burgeoning field of humanitarianism, working
closely with Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, and a host of other
In 1989, President Reagan acknowledged her achievements by presenting her with
the Citizens Medal Award. In 1993, the NAACP awarded her its prestigious
Spingarn Medal. That was followed by the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award,
bestowed by President Clinton in 1994. Last August, a feature story on Dr.
Height in the Cincinnati Enquirer declared that every president since
Eisenhower has called on her for advice. In their book, The African American
Century, Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates Jr. cited her as one of the 100
most influential African-Americans of the 20th century.
Dorothy Height, who has been called the "grande dame" of the civil rights
movement, has received numerous accolades throughout her career, including
more than 20 honorary degrees from institutions such as Harvard University,
Tuskegee Institute, Princeton University, and Morehouse College. She has
served in the leadership of dozens of organizations devoted to social change,
most notably as president of Delta Sigma Theta sorority from 1947 to 1956. In
1986 she founded and organized the Black Family Reunion Celebration, a
national coming together of African-American families designed to promote
historic strengths and traditional values.
The Frederick Douglass Award was established in 1995 by the USM Board of
Regents to honor individuals "who have displayed an extraordinary and active
commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity
exemplified in the life of Frederick Douglass." Previous recipients include
the Honorable Parren J. Mitchell, a member of Congress for the 7th District of
Maryland (1996); Benjamin Quarles, scholar at Morgan State University (1997,
posthumously); Samuel Lacy Jr., sports writer for the Baltimore Afro-American
(1998); the Hon. Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (1999); and Beatrice "Bea" Gaddy, advocate
for the poor and homeless and a member of the Baltimore City Council (2000).
Statesman, publisher and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was the leading
spokesman of American blacks in the 1800s. Born a slave in 1817 in Tuckahoe,
MD, he devoted his life to the abolition of slavery and the fight for black
rights. Douglass's name at birth was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey,
but he changed it when he fled from his master in Baltimore in 1838. He ended
up in New Bedford, Mass., where he attempted to ply his trade as a ship
caulker, but settled for collecting garbage and digging cellars. In 1841, at a
meeting of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society, Douglass delivered a lecture
on freedom that so impressed the society that it hired him to talk publicly
about his experiences as a slave. He then began a series of protests against
segregation, and published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of
Frederick Douglass, in 1845.
Out of fear that his identity as an escaped slave would be discovered upon
publication of the Narrative, Douglass fled to England. There he spoke out
against slavery and was given funds by friends to buy his freedom. He returned
to the U.S. in 1847, founded an anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester, NY, and
took up the cause of economic justice for freed blacks. He accused American
businessmen, including some who were abolitionists, of hiring white immigrants
over blacks. He also fought successfully against segregated schools in
Douglass's home was a station on the underground railroad, which helped
runaway slaves reach freedom. When the Civil War began in 1861, Douglass
helped recruit blacks for the Union Army. He discussed the immorality of
slavery with President Abraham Lincoln on several occasions. Finally, he wrote
two expanded versions of his autobiography - My Bondage and My Freedom, and
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He died in 1895.