NEW YORK (AP) – Barnard College has made civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height an honorary alumna, 75 years after it rescinded her acceptance as a student because of her skin color. In an alumnae reunion celebration on Thursday, college President Judith Shapiro named 92-year-old Height an honorary graduate – an accolade seldom bestowed by the school.

“This action shows the heart of a great institution,” Height said Friday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “It not only reaffirms that I was a deserving person, it recognizes its old mistake.”

Height won admission to the college in 1929 after graduating with honors from an integrated Pennsylvania high school.

But when she arrived alone from her home in Rankin, Pa., the college dean, noting her black skin, told her Barnard had already reached its quota of “two Negro students per year,” in Height’s words.

She said the experience left her crushed. “I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep for days,” Height said. Still, she remained unbowed.

She visited New York University with her acceptance letter from Barnard and was admitted on the spot.

“This really sharpened my determination to eliminate discrimination,” Height said. “I learned that there is no advantage in bitterness, that I needed to go into action, which is something I have tried to follow since.”

Height served more than 30 years as the president of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization dedicated to uplifting black women and their communities.

She also held leadership positions in the YWCA, where she advocated progressive policies embracing minorities. In 1964, she organized a series of informal dialogues between white and black women from the North and South called “Wednesdays in Mississippi.”

The Barnard honor was organized by a committee of this year’s 30th anniversary class.


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