With 700 tickets distributed to the public who gathered as early as 6 a.m. for the 10 a.m. funeral, the cathedral slowly filled to capacity. Many members of Height’s organization, the National Council of Negro Women, and her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, donned hats such as those for which Height was recognized.
A confidante and adviser to many presidents, including Reagan, Clinton and Johnson, Height also commanded that attention of the nation’s 44th head of state.
“We came to love her stories and we loved her smile … and we loved those hats that she wore like a crown, so regal,” said President Obama, commenting on Height’s 21 visits to the White House.
President Obama applauded the humility of the civil rights legend.
“With grace, she did so much for our nation, yet did not need to see her picture in the newspaper,” he said.
As attendees swayed in their seats and rose to their feet to the arrangements of the Howard University Choir and Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Bebe Winans, members of Height’s family and close circle came forth to offer recollections and tributes.
Dr. Bernard C. Randolph Sr., Height’s nephew, reflected on a visit from his aunt 80 years ago when the activist was 18 and he was only eight.
A “great mentor,” Height had the “capacity to inspire a person to be the best they could be” and encouraged Randolph to attend Howard University Medical School, he said.
Educator, philanthropist and producer Camille O. Cosby, Ed.D., brought the crowd to laughter as she reflected on the subtle humor of Dr. height.
Commenting on Height’s ability to let someone know when she wanted to be alone, Cosby said Height was known to tell an offender, “you will not be moving into the future with me.”
“What I most appreciate about Dorothy was her ability to be firm without losing her essence of womanhood,” Cosby said.
With such fervor, President Obama said, Heights had a voice on the issue of universal health care and took her presence in these forums seriously.
Height was scheduled to meet President Obama in February alongside Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP president Ben Jealous and National Urban League president Marc Morial to discuss the “pressing problems of unemployment.”
During this time, however, Washington was blanketed by two feet of snow. It was only after the car couldn’t make it through her driveway to pick her up that the wheelchair-bound leader gave up her quest to make it to the White House.
“She was not about to let just a bunch of men in this meeting,” said the president to a laughing audience.
With attendees including the 23rd U.S. Secretary of Labor and Height’s confidante, Alexis Herman, actor and community leader Bill Cosby and actress Cicely Tyson, Height’s funeral was a time of gratitude for a life full of service.
James Stewart, quality control agent for the U.S. Department of Defense, appreciated the humor that was able to rise up from an occasion usually marked with sorrow.
“She led such an amazingly productive life with such grace; this could be nothing more than a time of happiness and reflection,” Stewart said. “I feel the life of Dr. Height should be an example for little girls on what to aspire to.”
Quoting Matthew 23:12, “for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” President Obama charged the nation to follow in Height’s humble footsteps.
“Let us honor her life by forever changing this country for the better.”