Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.
Dorothy Height (1912-2010) fought for equality for African-Americans and women throughout her life. She was born in Richmond, Virginia and later moved to Pennsylvania. As a child, she attended integrated schools. In high school, she was an accomplished orator and won a college scholarship because of her public speaking skills. Barnard College accepted her initially, but then denied her admission because they had already me their “quota” of two Black students. Height instead attended New York University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in education in 1930 and her master’s degree in psychology in 1932. After college, Height was a caseworker in New York. In 1937, she began working at the YWCA in Harlem. Her early work with the YWCA was focused on the exploitation of Black women working as day laborers cleaning white people’s houses. In 1946, Height helped the YWCA integrate.
I have been in the proximity of, and threatened by, the Klan; I have been called everything people of color are called; I have been denied admission because of a quota. I’ve had all of that, but I’ve also learned that getting bitter is not the way.
While working at the YWCA, she met Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune and was encouraged to join the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). In 1957, Height became the president of the NCNW. She led this organization for forty years. During the Civil Rights Movement, Height worked alongside the male leaders to bring about social change. In 1963, she helped organize the March on Washington, but was not one of the speakers. In 1965, she established the Center for Racial Justice. Both this center and the NCNW provided her a platform from which to fight for civil rights.
We African-American Women seldom do just what we want to do, but always what we have to do. I am grateful to have been in a time and place where I could be a part of what was needed.
Height also fought for women’s rights and brought the fight for civil rights and the struggle for women’s rights together. During the 1960s, Height held “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” an opportunity for women of all races to come together and work for change. In 1971, she helped Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm found the National Women’s Political Caucus. In 1986, Height began the Black Family Reunion, an annual celebration of African-American culture and values. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, as well as multiple honorary doctorates. She wrote Open Wide the Freedom Gates, the story of her life and work for equal rights. She continued working for justice and equality until her death at age 98. At her funeral in the Washington National Cathedral, President Obama gave her eulogy.
I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom. I want to be remembered as one who tried.