Hundreds pay respects to civil rights leader Height

Hundreds of people pay their respects to the matriarch of the civil rights movement, who died April 20 at age 98.
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010

Former president Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other political titans shared their joyful memories of Dorothy Irene Height on Wednesday night at Shiloh Baptist Church, offering a send-off fit for a civil rights icon renowned both for her substance and her style.

"She was out there ahead of her time; that's what made her beautiful," Bill Clinton said of the longtime leader of the National Council of Negro Women, who died April 20 at 98. "If ever anyone earned her way, Dorothy Height did."

The "celebration of life" at the sanctuary in Northwest Washington was packed with at least 1,300 people, including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Bill Cosby and actress Cicely Tyson. Many women wore their finest hats, Height's signature sartorial statement.

"She was elegant, but she had no airs. She was passionate but never overheated," Hillary Clinton said. "She understood that women's rights and civil rights are indivisible. She stood up for the rights of women every chance she had."

Clinton, wearing a black wide-brim hat with a white silk ribbon, said she had "never given a speech in a hat."

A funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at Washington National Cathedral.

The service Wednesday night, at which Stevie Wonder sang "I'll Be Loving You Always" in tribute to Height, was one of several events commemorating her. Earlier Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and other political figures went to the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women to pay respects to Height, who directed the organization for 40 years.

At the church service, the Rev. Al Sharpton recalled that Height spent her early adult years as an activist in New York City.

"The years of activism we came to know began in Harlem," Sharpton said. "She planted the seeds of a movement that changed America."

Bernice King, the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., brought many in the crowd to their feet with a stirring speech that challenged them to carry on the legacy of the civil rights movement.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said: "Dorothy Height will always be remembered as a woman of grace, elegance and modesty."

Earlier Wednesday, the Deltas strode up the brick sidewalks of Georgia Avenue, their black dresses flowing in the chilly breeze, their jeweled sorority pins sparkling in the sunshine.

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