When America’s first Black president Barack Obama eulogized Dr. Dorothy Height on Thursday, he spoke of her humility. The 98-year-old civil rights leader was laid to rest in National Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, after a life of tireless service.
Obama gave Dr. Height credit for making his presidency possible. She was born in Richmond, Virginia, which had been the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. When she was a young woman, the Jim Crow laws were in effect, and lynching was common. The work she undertook required courage and tenacity, said Obama.
She desegregated the national YWCA, led the National Council of Negro Women, and taught around the world. She worked with Martin Luther King, who she first met when he was only 15 years old and about to enter Morehouse College in Atlanta. She loaned pigs to farmers so they could make a living. Height started the Black Family Reunion program to celebrate the black family.
The funeral service at Washington National Cathedral was overflowing with dignitaries and ordinary people honoring Dr. Height. The president and vice president and their wives, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and leaders from the arts and public life attended.“The love in this sanctuary is a testament to a life lived righteously; a life that lifted other lives; a life that changed this country for the better over the course of nearly one century here on Earth,” said Obama.
The president told a recent anecdote about her. He said she had visited the White House 21 times since he became president. In February, he had a meeting planned with civil rights leaders. A historic, severe blizzard made streets nearly impassable. He thought she would not try to attend, but “True to form, Dr. Height insisted on coming, despite the blizzard, never mind that she was in a wheelchair.”
She only gave up when no car could get into her driveway, said Obama.
The president spoke of how many nameless as well as famous people had worked to end segregation, and how collective the effort was. Dr. Height belongs with “men like W.E.B. Du Bois and A. Philip Randolph; women like Mary McLeod Bethune and Betty Friedan,” said Obama, yet she never cared about fame.
“She never cared about who got the credit. She didn't need to see her picture in the papers. She understood that the movement gathered strength from the bottom up."
Dr. Height’s grave is in Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Maryland.