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Passing of Dorothy Height: What future for civil rights movement?

Internecine fighting and the passing of icons like Dorothy Height and Benjamin Hooks indicate a civil rights movement unmoored from its past. Its search for relevance is coming to a head.

In a 1964 file photo, from left, James Farmer, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality; Whitney M. Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League; Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women, talk to reporters after meeting with President Lyndon Johnson. Height, a leading female voice of the 1960s civil rights movement, died Tuesday.

AP/File

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Known for her colorful hats and regal air, Dorothy Height stood on podiums with Martin Luther King Jr., Rep. John Lewis, and spoke at the Million Man March. Called a "national treasure" for her role in the civil rights movement, Ms. Height died Tuesday at age 98.

Coming a week after the death of former NAACP president Benjamin Hooks, Height's passing is part of a wrenching generational shift in a civil rights movement fighting to stay relevant in an America that has elected its first black president.

But as those who faced police batons and fire hoses fade from the scene and groups like Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference face internal coups, there is also hope for a new generation of black activists to influence popularly elected black leaders like Barack Obama in the fight against what one political scientist calls America's "residual racism."

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