Civil rights leader dead at 98

Dorothy Height, who was called the queen mother of the civil rights movement through seven decades of advocacy for racial equality — including 41 years as president of the National Council of Negro Women — has died. She was 98.

Height, who also played a key role in integrating the YWCA, died Tuesday of natural causes at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., the council announced.

Though not nearly as well known as her male contemporaries, Height was a steadfast presence in the civil rights movement. Often the only woman at strategy meetings with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders, she was a determined voice pressing the importance of issues affecting women and children, such as child care and education.

Beginning in the 1930s, she helped shape the national agenda for the YWCA. Traveling throughout the nation, she prodded local chapters to implement interracial charters at a time when racial segregation was still the order of the day.

As president of the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1998, she led the group to expand its mission. Her initiatives included training thousands of women to work as community advocates. Back in their own communities, they pushed for better housing, schools and stores. It was a way to help women escape what Height called the "triple bind of racism, sexism and poverty."

One of Height's most visible accomplishments was the Black Family Reunion Celebration, a three-day cultural event in Washington, D.C., with related events around the country. Founded to counter negative images of the African American family, it has been held annually since 1986.

The daughter of a nurse and a building contractor, Height was born March 24, 1912, in Richmond, Va., and grew up in Rankin, Pa., where she earned top grades in school and distinguished herself with her oratory skills.

After graduating from high school at 16, she was accepted into Barnard College in New York but was told she had to delay her entrance a year because the school had met its annual quota of two African-American students.

Instead she entered New York University, which had no such quota. In four years she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in social work.

Height never married and had no children.