Dorothy I. Height received the congressional gold medal in 2004 in honor of a lifetime of work helping people exercise their civil rights; in addition, she also received the Citizens Medal Award in 1989 and the Medal of Freedom in 1994. The medal is inscribed with her words: “We African American women seldom do just what we want to do, but always do 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.”
Dr. Height’s Work Honored by President, Thousands of Others in Three Days of Memorials
Dr. Heightâ€™s work honored by President Obama
by Pharoh Martin
NNPA National Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA)–Standing in front of more than 3,000 mourners at the Washington National Cathedral, President Barack Obama described Dr. Dorothy Height’s life as one that for almost an entire century not only lifted other lives but also changed the course of history for her country.
“What she cared about was the cause.
The cause of justice, the cause of equality, the cause of opportunity, freedom’s cause,” Obama said during a rousing 13-minute eulogy to Height April 30, in which he described her as a “drum major for equality” for her decades spanning work of advancing civil and women’s rights. The civil rights icon died April 20.
The president said that even as a wheelchair-bound 98-year-old woman Height, with her trademark hats that “she wore like a crown” was still so dedicated to her cause that she became a White House regular.
“She came by not once, not twice–21 times she stopped by the White House,” Obama said to much laughter and applause. “[She] took part in our discussions around health care reform in her final months.”
Obama shared that Height, along with other Black leaders, was scheduled to meet with him in February to address the pressing problem of high Black unemployment. But because the Washington area, at the time, was about to be blanketed by the worst snowstorm on record he suggested that he could reschedule their meeting out of concern for Height’s health. But because of her “quiet, dogged, dignified persistence” Height wouldn’t allow that.
“She was not about to let just a bunch of men in this meeting,” said Obama to a gently amused crowd. “It was only when the car literally could not get to her driveway that she reluctantly decided to stay home. But she still sent a message about what needed to be done.”
Obama talked about how progress, pushed forward by selfless and committed thinkers and doers like Height, not only made the country better and made his ascent as the nation’s first Black president possible.
“From men like W.E.B Du Bois and A. Philip Randolph; women like Mary McLeod Bethune and Betty Friedan–they’re Americans whose names we know,” he said. “They are leaders whose legacies we teach. They are giants who fill our history books.
Well, Dr. Dorothy Height deserves a place in this pantheon. She, too, deserves a place in our history books. She, too, deserves a place of honor in America’s memory.”
Obama ordered the country’s flags to be flown at half-mast to honor Height.
The president wasn’t the only notable person among the hundreds of mourners in attendance who came to the National Cathedral to pay their respects and commemorate the accomplished life of the matriarch of the Civil Rights movement. A bevy of notables such as comedian Bill Cosby, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the children of Dr. Martin Luther King also attended.
The funeral included musical tributes by gospel music greats Donnie McClurkin and Bebe Winans and Opera singer Denyce Graves.
Other speakers at the service included author and producer Dr. Camille Cosby, poet and author Maya Angelou, former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Height’s 88-year-old nephew Dr. Bernard Randolph, who spoke on behalf of Height’s family.
“She was a good mentor,” Randolph said. “She had the mental capacity to inspire others to do the best that they could.”
Height was buried in the Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Md.
In the days leading up to the stately funeral, organizers held a series of stirring tributes dedicated to the National Council of Negro Women longtime president. A memorial ceremony was held by Height’s sorority Delta Sigma Theta, which she served as national president for 11 years starting in 1946, at Howard University and another at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, attended by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton among a list of national civil rights leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The NCNW held a public viewing in the lobby of its building on Washington’s Pennsylvania Ave. Height’s closed casket was surrounded by two ceremonial police guards, a rope, and an avalanche of rose bouquets. The viewing drew thousands of people who–inspired by Height’s work for freedom, justice and equality–came to pay their respects. The line stretched around the building multiple times.
“She was a pivotal figure in history for civil rights and for women, for Black women especially,” said Silver Spring, Md. resident Ladystacie Rimes, who met Height as a NCNW volunteer when she was a Georgetown University law student. “For someone that was such a pivotal figure I have to respect everything that she did and the struggles that she overcame.”
And while many of the visitors were either affiliated with Height’s woman’s organization or her sorority Delta Sigma Theta, where she served as it’s tenth national president in 1947, many were residents who were old enough to remember Height as the only woman to stand on the platform at the “March at Washington” where Martin Luther King gave his famed “I Have A Dream” speech.
Tony Johns, 33, of Washington, DC, who stood and waited the hour it took to navigate the long line to see Height’s casket, was none of those. He said he became familiar with Height’s legacy and work by surfing the Internet.
“What is very disappointing to me is that being 33 years of age, I just don’t see any hope in my current generation to pick up that important work. And so what’s needed in the Black community?” Johns said. “It’s both a sad day but it’s a day of empowerment for me to try to do more by getting my age group to pick up the ball and keep moving.”