Dorothy Irene Height, most known for her work as a civil rights activist, died Tuesday (Apr 20) at 98 years old. Height marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. She remained active as an African American leader well into her 90’s and most recently met with President Obama and White House officials for a summit on race and the economy.

Height died at Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C., where she had been in serious condition for weeks. A cause of death was unknown initially at press time.

In a statement, Obama called her “the godmother of the civil rights movement” and a hero to Americans. “Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality … and served as the only woman at the highest level of the civil rights movement — witnessing every march and milestone along the way,” Obama said. Vice President Joe Biden said Height was one of the first people to visit him when he first took his seat in the Senate in 1973. “She remained a friend and would never hesitate to tell me or anybody else when she thought we weren’t fighting hard enough,” he said.

Height received two of the nation’s highest honors: the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004.
In awarding the congressional medal, then-President George W. Bush noted that Height had met with every U.S. president since Eisenhower, and “she’s told every president what she thinks since Dwight David Eisenhower.”

In a statement Tuesday, Bush hailed “her grace and her determination. Our nation will never forget Dr. Heights efforts to make America a more compassionate, welcoming and just society.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, in a joint statement, said, “Our nation is poorer for her loss but infinitely richer for the life she led, the progress she achieved and the people she touched.”

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