Obama praises Dorothy Height as 'godmother of civil rights'

President Obama delivers the eulogy at the memorial service for civil rights icon Dorothy Height on Thursday at National Cathedral.
By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 1:02 PM

Civil rights icon Dorothy Height's eulogy was the third that President Obama has delivered since taking office. The others were for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the miners who died this month in a West Virginia mine collapse.

Kennedy's funeral allowed the president to embrace the senator's legacy and pay homage to a key supporter. Honoring the miners enabled the president to connect with a suffering working-class community and show empathy for a bloc that did not back him at the polls.

Height's services were different, packed with both historical references and light moments. Before taking the pulpit to speak, Obama sat next to his wife, bobbing his head as gospel artist BeBe Winans sang "Stand." Obama smiled as he listened to friends tell stories about Height daring to play basketball for her school team long before it was acceptable for women to do so.

Poet Maya Angelou offered a reading and Camille Cosby also paid tribute to Height, who led the National Council of Negro Women for decades and marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Obama praised Height as the "godmother of civil rights," becoming a stalwart of the movement even at personal risk. He said she "deserves a place" in our history books and America's memory and noted that anyone who had lived long enough to have an 88-year old nephew had "lived a full life."

Height was 98 when she died last week.

Obama spoke of the period in which Height was raised, when lynching was still commonplace, black people were legally denied opportunities and slavery was still a fairly recent memory for some.

Then he placed himself as an heir of Height's work, as he has often done, thanking civil rights leaders for being the "Moses generation" that led their people out of the desert. Obama refers to his generation as the "Joshua" generation, referring to the biblical successor to Moses, leading his people to the promised land.

"It's because of her that Michelle and I are here," Obama said to applause from those who had gathered to honor Height.

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