Obama honors Height as godmother of civil rights
Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010 9:07 pm
By BRETT ZONGKER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama delivered the eulogy today for the late Dorothy I. Height, a woman he calls the godmother of the civil rights movement.
Height, who led the National Council of Negro Women for decades and marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was honored during a funeral service at Washington National Cathedral for her leadership on the front lines fighting for equality, education and to ease racial tension. She died last week at age 98.
“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 in a statement when she died April 20.
She was a voice for women in the civil rights movement and beyond. Leading women are expected to celebrate her life in return, including poet Maya Angelou, educator Camille Cosby, singers BeBe Winans and Denyce Graves, among others.
Height was a quietly powerful figure in Washington, meeting with every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Her activism stretched from Obama’s election back to the New Deal. In recent years, she was cheered at events and easily recognizable in the colorful hats she often wore.
Born in Richmond, Va., in 1912 before women could vote and when black people had few rights, Height went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University. As a social worker in the 1930s, she worked to resolve riots in Harlem and marched in protest of lynching.
She became a leader in the YWCA, worked to desegregate public facilities and was one of 10 young people chosen by Eleanor Roosevelt to spend a weekend at the first lady’s Hyde Park, N.Y., home preparing for a World Youth Conference.
Height was elected national president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority and volunteered in her 20s for the National Council of Negro Women under her mentor, Mary McLeod Bethune.
By 1957, she became head of the organization and created the National Black Family Reunion, attended by thousands since 1986 on the National Mall. She led the council to be the only historic black group with a home on Washington’s symbolic Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and White House.
She stepped down in 1997, but the building still bears her name. Friends raised $5 million in 2002 to pay off the mortgage.
In a soon-to-be-published book, “Living With Purpose,” Height left some advice. She writes that people should look at the world as it is becoming, rather than as it has been.
“We have to gain a recognition not only that no one stands alone, but on a positive side, that we also need each other,” she wrote. “In the long run, it is how we relate to each other and how well we work together that will make the deciding difference.”
Published in The Messenger 4.29.10