Obama: Follow Height's Example of Service

Height funeral service held at National Cathedral

Thursday, Apr 29, 2010  |  Updated 7:11 PM EDT
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<a title=President Obama gives the eulogy for Dorothy Height." />

President Obama gives the eulogy for Dorothy Height.

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Civil Rights Leader Laid to Rest

Family and friends, dignitaries and admirers, celebrate the life of civil rights leader Dr. Dorothy Height at the National Cathedral.
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President Barack Obama says civil rights icon Dorothy Height lived a righteous life that changed the country for the better.

Obama spoke Thursday during a funeral service for the fallen civil rights leader at Washington National Cathedral. Height led the National Council of Negro Women for decades and marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She died last week at age 98.

Obama praised Height for contributing to civil rights advances, sometimes at personal risk. He said she "deserves a place" in our
history books and America's memory, Obama spoke of the environment in which Height was raised, where lynching was still commonplace and many black people were denied opportunity.

The president called on Americans to honor her memory by serving their country and making it better.  "We can all be drum majors for a righteous cause," he said.

Obama also struck a light note at the somber event, mentioning Height's colorful hats "that she wore like a crown."

Height was a voice for women in the civil rights movement and beyond. Leading women celebrated 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."

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