Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir

Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir

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by Dorothy Height, Lizan Mitchell
     
 

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A heroine of the Civil Rights Movement tells the remarkable story of her life, her work, and what it means to be both black and a woman.

Dorothy Height marched at civil rights rallies, sat through tense White House meetings, and witnessed every major victory in the struggle for racial equality. Yet as the sole woman among powerful, charismatic men, someone whose

Overview

A heroine of the Civil Rights Movement tells the remarkable story of her life, her work, and what it means to be both black and a woman.

Dorothy Height marched at civil rights rallies, sat through tense White House meetings, and witnessed every major victory in the struggle for racial equality. Yet as the sole woman among powerful, charismatic men, someone whose personal ambition was secondary to her passion for her cause, she has received little mainstream recognition—until now.

In her memoir, Dr. Height, now ninety-one, reflects on a life of service and leadership. We witness her childhood encounters with racism and the thrill of New York college life during the Harlem Renaissance. We see her protest against lynchings. We sit with her onstage as Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech. We meet people she knew intimately throughout the decades: W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary McLeod Bethune, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Langston Hughes, and many others. And we watch as she leads the National Council of Negro Women for forty-one years, her diplomatic counsel sought by U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton.

After the fierce battles of the 1960s, Dr. Height concentrates on troubled black communities, on issues like rural poverty, teen pregnancy and black family values. In 1994, her efforts are officially recognized. Along with Rosa Parks, she receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Author Biography: Dr. Dorothy Height has more than twenty honorary degrees. In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she has received the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom Medal and the Citizens Medal Award, which President Ronald Reagan awarded her in 1989. Now 91, she continues to serve as chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
One of the most important figures in the civil rights movement, Dorothy Height stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight for racial equality with towering icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Roy Wilkins. Yet, amazingly, her name is barely recognized in mainstream circles. Hopefully, this perfect little gem of an autobiography, written with the eloquence and modest grace that has informed every aspect of its author's remarkable life, will go a long way toward rectifying this oversight.

Born in 1912, Height grew up the smartest girl in Rankin, Pennsylvania, a melting pot of European immigrants and American-born whites and blacks, where she learned early on to respect people's differences and to seek solutions to problems in a spirit of cooperation and inclusion. A natural leader, a persuasive orator, and a skilled facilitator, she found her life's work in the struggle for racial equality and social justice, quickly rising through the ranks in organizations ranging from the YWCA to the National Council of Negro Women and catching the attention of powerful civil rights leaders -- who were smart enough to involve her directly in top-level decisions.

In a life that spanned most of the 20th century, Height has rubbed elbows with W.E.B. Du Bois, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Langston Hughes; she has advised ten presidents and received countless awards. Yet, one of the great charms of this memoir is its unassuming tone. As she lived, so has she written: Dorothy Height has managed to make the prodigious accomplishments of her distinguished 70-year career look like a cooperative effort she was "honored" to be part of. Anne Markowski

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402594496
Publisher:
Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
12/17/2004
Edition description:
Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

In November 1937, one month after I began working at the Harlem YWCA, I met Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt on the same day. Mrs. Bethune was hosting a meeting of the National Council of Negro Women, which she had founded two years before. Mrs. Roosevelt, America's First Lady, was to speak. As the newest member of the YWCA staff, I was assigned to greet Mrs. Roosevelt and escort her to the meeting.

I alerted the receptionists at the two main doors to let me know immediately when Mrs. Roosevelt arrived. We were very excited, and each minute anticipating her arrival seemed like an eternity. Then, all of a sudden, one of the janitors ran up. Mrs. Roosevelt had entered through the service entrance and was making her own way toward the auditorium.

I saw my little job going up in smoke. Greeting the First Lady was my only assignment, and I had muffed it. Who would have thought that Mrs. Roosevelt would park her own car on a Harlem street and come through the service entrance?

I intercepted her just before she got to the auditorium. I caught my breath, greeted her warmly, and escorted her inside.

Mrs. Roosevelt gave an exciting speech. She wanted to get to Hyde Park before dark, but Mrs. Bethune persuaded her to stay long enough for the women to serenade her with "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

As Mrs. Roosevelt gathered her things, Mrs. Bethune turned to me.

"What is your name?" she asked.

"Dorothy Height," I whispered.

"I want to talk to you," she said. "We need you."

I escorted Mrs. Roosevelt to her car--properly, this time--and waved goodbye. By the time I returned, Mrs. Bethune had already appointed me to the Resolutions Committee of the National Council of Negro Women.

On that fall day, the redoubtable Mary McLeod Bethune put her hand on me. She drew me into her dazzling orbit of people in power and people in poverty. I remember Mrs. Bethune made her fingers into a fist to illustrate for the women the significance of working together to eliminate injustice. "The freedom gates are half ajar," she said. "We must pry them fully open."

I have been committed to the calling ever since.

Meet the Author


Dr. Dorothy Height has more than twenty honorary degrees. In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she has received the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Freedom Medal and the Citizens Medal Award, which President Ronald Reagan awarded her in 1989. Now 91, she continues to serve as chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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