President Obama joined a capacity crowd of the rich, the famous, and the beneficiaries of Dorothy Height’s struggle for equality in her final sendoff today. The President delivered a moving eulogy at Washington’s National Cathedral for Height, who died last week at the age of 98.
From the president’s eulogy:
“Look at her body of work. Desegregating the YWCA. Laying the groundwork for integration on Wednesdays in Mississippi. Lending pigs to poor farmers as a sustainable source of income. Strategizing with civil rights leaders, holding her own, the only woman in the room, Queen Esther to this Moses Generation — even as she led the National Council of Negro Women with vision and energy — (applause) — with vision and energy, vision and class.
But we remember her not solely for all she did during the civil rights movement. We remember her for all she did over a lifetime, behind the scenes, to broaden the movement’s reach. To shine a light on stable families and tight-knit communities. To make us see the drive for civil rights and women’s rights not as a separate struggle, but as part of a larger movement to secure the rights of all humanity, regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity. It’s an unambiguous record of righteous work, worthy of remembrance, worthy of recognition.
And yet, one of the ironies is, is that year after year, decade in, decade out, Dr. Height went about her work quietly, without fanfare, without self-promotion. 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, those unheralded men and women who don’t always make it into the history books but who steadily insisted on their dignity, on their manhood and womanhood. (Applause.) She wasn’t interested in credit. What she cared about was the cause. The cause of justice. The cause of equality. The cause of opportunity. Freedom’s cause.”
Later, poet Maya Angelou, herself in a wheelchair, read from Psalm 139.
1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
5 You hem me in—behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.