Civil rights veteran Dorothy Height mourned

Dorothy Irene Height, a pioneering voice of the US civil rights movement whose activism stretched from the tumultuous 1930s to the election of President Barack Obama, has died. She was 98.

Dr Height, who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr and led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, was known for her determination and grace as well as her wry humour.

She remained active and outspoken well into her 90s and often received rousing ovations at events around Washington, where she was easily recognisable in the bright, colourful hats she almost always wore.

Dr Height died at Howard University Hospital, where she had been in serious condition for weeks.

In a statement, Mr 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," Mr Obama said.

Dr Height's was the second death of a major civil rights figure in less than a week. Benjamin L. Hooks, the former longtime head of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, died on Thursday in Memphis, Tennessee, aged 85.

Former Labour Secretary Alexis Herman, a close friend who spoken for Dr Height's family and called Dr Height her mentor, said funeral arrangements were pending.

Dr Height received two of the nation's highest honours: 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 Dr Height had met with every US president since Eisenhower, and "she's told every president what she thinks since Dwight David Eisenhower".

In a statement, Mr Bush hailed "her grace and her determination. Our nation will never forget Dr Height's efforts to make America a more compassionate, welcoming and just society."

Secretary of State Hillary 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."

Dr Height was born in Richmond, Virginia, before American women could vote and when blacks had few rights.

Her family moved to Pennsylvania when she was four. Distinguishing herself in the classroom, she was accepted to Barnard College but then turned away because the school already had reached its quota of two black women. She went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from New York University.

As a teenager, Dr Height marched in New York's Times Square shouting, Stop the lynching. After earning her degrees, she became a leader of the Harlem YWCA and the United Christian Youth Movement of North America, where she pushed to prevent lynching, desegregate the armed forces and reform the criminal justice system.

She travelled to the Netherlands and the United Kingdom as a US delegate to youth and church conferences, and in 1938 was one of 10 young people chosen by Eleanor Roosevelt, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's wife, to spend a weekend at the first lady's Hyde Park, New York, home to prepare for a World Youth Conference at Vassar College.