Metal detectors covered the entrance of the Washington National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue Northwest. Countless police officers and security personnel lined the surrounding streets. Deltas, dignitaries, diplomats and the general public filled the sanctuary to celebrate the life of civil rights icon Dorothy I. Height.
At 9:45 a.m. the acolytes lined up at the end of the huge cathedral. At 10 a.m., on the dot, the procession of officiates made its way to the altar. Six uniformed officers carrying Dr. Height’s casket slowly followed behind the procession. The audience stood, numerous eyes gazing on the white and gold cloth covering the coffin.
BeBe Winans, Grammy Award winner and former judge on BET’s “Sunday’s Best,” delivered the first musical tribute. His rendition of “Stand” caused a stir among the congregation, moving some people to their feet in praise.
Camille O. Cosby, Ed.D., wife of comedian and actor Bill Cosby, reflected on her memories of Dr. Height. She spoke fondly of Dr. Height’s civil rights and feminist movements, as well as her numerous awards and civic engagements. She keeps Dr. Height’s memory dear to her heart.
“I will always hold on to what she has taught me,” Cosby said.
Hymns were sung and prayers read in thanksgiving to Dr. Height.
Then quiet fell over the crowd. Security scattered through the aisles. A series of handclaps soon arose, greeting the commander in chief, President Barack Obama, who was delivering the eulogy.
“Not once, not twice, but 21 times,” said Obama as he reflected on the number of times Dr. Height had been to the White House.
He went on to discuss her passion for equal rights. “She never cared about who got the credit; she didn’t care about having her picture in the paper,” Obama said.
“All she cared about was cause … freedom’s cause.”
He also touched on her accomplishments in the African-American community and his bond with Dr. Height — “progress that made it possible for me and Michelle to be president and first lady.”
A plethora of other speakers, ranging from poet Maya Angelou to the former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman, all expressed their adoration and respect for Dr. Height.
Cynthia Hardy, a Washington resident, had never heard of Dr. Height before she died. After hearing about her accomplishments, Hardy felt obligated to be in attendance.
“I thought it would be interesting to come here to find out about her,” Hardy said. “Everything was lovely, and she was a great woman.”
During the long procession out of the church, onlookers watched as Dr. Height’s casket was set back into the shimmering blue hearse.
“Let us honor her life by changing this country for the better,” Obama said.
Nicole Austin is a correspondent for the Howard University News Service.