Power Source: Dr. Dorothy Irene Height

by WL Author

A tribute to an iconic Washingtonian.
By Adoria Doucette

Dorothy Height at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Annual Dinner in 2008. (photo by Tony Powell)

Dorothy Height at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Annual Dinner in 2008. (photo by Tony Powell)

In 1925 when Fannie Burroughs Height began to insist that her 13 year old daughter Dorothy begin attending women’s church leadership meetings, a seed was planted in young Dorothy’s mind which would propel her to personally ensure that the high ideals of American citizenship would become standard practice by guaranteeing rights to all. Young Dorothy would go on to win a national oratorical contest on the United States Constitution, and matriculate through undergraduate studies at NYU and post graduate degrees from NYU and Columbia.

While Dorothy was diligently pursuing her education, Presidents Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt were privately conferring with the prominent educator Mary McLeod Bethune regarding the living conditions of women and youth in America. Ms. Bethune would become the most instrumental individual in young Dorothy’s life. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a close friend of Ms. Bethune and on Ms. Bethune’s recommendation, the first lady invited a 26 year old Dorothy Height to the storied Roosevelt Hyde Park Estate to plan a world youth conference. Beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dorothy would privately counsel 12 more US Presidents, carrying on the tradition of purposeful power and influence demonstrated by her guiding light, Ms. Bethune. Dorothy Height’s professional career would greatly increase the welfare, rights, and education for 7 generations of American women and youth. Millions have had better lives because of her tactful use of power to ensure structural progress of American government, cultural and private institutions. As a leader of the National Council of Negro Women and several of the largest national organizations pertaining to civil and human rights, Ms. Height participated in countless initiatives over her career that afforded her fellow citizens the constitutional rights that she had so eloquently described in her oratorical conquest at 16 years of age.

Dorothy Height with Nancy Wilson (left) and friends.

Dorothy Height with Nancy Wilson (left), Alexis Herman and Cicely Tyson

Power Source was invited by Washington DC power broker Tanya Lombard to celebrate Dr. Dorothy Height’s life and career at Shiloh Baptist Church on Thursday, April 27th. In a historical moment, leaders and dignitaries from around the globe participated in a 6 hour celebratory event titled “Seasons in the Life of Dorothy Irene Height”. The invitation only audience was welcomed by Kent Amos, Founder of the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Charter School, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Essence Magazine’s Susan Taylor. The second section of tribute was titled “The Harlem Years” where the podium was graced by Congressman Charles Rangel, Reverend Al Sharpton, and The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton. The third section was titled “Women’s and Human Rights Advocacy”, which included

Dorothy Height with Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (Photo By Kyle Samperton)

Dorothy Height with Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (Photo By Kyle Samperton)

remarks from Ann Stallard, Chair of United Way of America and a brilliant musical selection by Stevie Wonder. The fourth section was titled “Civil Rights: The Freedom Trail” which featured remarks by Vernon Jordan, Congressman John Lewis, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Minister Bernice A. King, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson. Cicely Tyson performed a tribute to Mary Mcleod Bethune which opened the fifth and final section of the tribute titled “The National Council of Negro Women Years” which featured remarks from Jeffrey Thompson of Chartered Health, Vivian Pickard of the General Motors Foundation, Ingrid Jones of the Coca Cola Foundation, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund and Dr. Johnetta Cole of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Closing remarks were made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Dr. Height’s close confidant, former US Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. Power Source spoke to Vanilla Bean, who personally made the iconic hats Dr. Height was synonymous for in the same pew with entertainment mogul Don King, who has very privately wielded enormous power inside of the beltway since supporting the successful candidacy of George H. W. Bush for the Presidency in 1988. Mr. King knew Height well, and was moved by the epic tribute.

The following morning, on order of the President of the United States Barack Obama, flags flew at half staff as the leaders of government, industry, culture, and community shared the National Cathedral with family, friends and colleagues of Dr. Height. Power Source spoke to DC real estate mogul Don Peebles, whom views himself as a product of Dr. Height’s legacy,  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, US Senator Roland Burris, and Vernon Jordan were in attendance. After everyone was seated, President Obama, the First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden entered the Cathedral and took their places in the front row. The crowd was welcomed by Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of Washington National Cathedral and the service was presided over by Bishop Vashti McKenzie. Dr. Maya Angelou and Dr. Camille Cosby reflected on Ms. Heights influence. Mezzo Soprano Denyce Graves gave the performance of a lifetime, and vocalist Al Johnson accompanied by harpist Jeff Majors enraptured the attendees in a fashion that would have made Dr. Height proud.  President Obama delivered a eulogy that was a fitting tribute to the glorious life of Dorothy Height.

The young and ever stylish Dorothy Irene Height.

The young and ever stylish Dorothy Irene Height.

Having personally felt the energy in the cathedral’s great hall, I can provide insight into the tears that President Obama shed which were the only tears we have seen since the passing of his grandmother. We who were present in the National Cathedral did not weep out of sorrow, we were moved to tears by the brilliance of Dorothy Height and what she represented and worked for. Power Source salutes Fannie Burroughs Height for her stewardship of young Dorothy Height; her influence as a mother and the influence of MaryMcLeod Bethune which led young Dorothy on a path that changed the world.

Dorothy22To move forward, we have to look at the world as it is becoming rather than how it has been. We have to see how we have to stretch ourselves to become related to this ever changing scenery. We have to gain recognition not only that no one stands alone, but on a positive side, that we also need each other… In the long run, it is how we relate to each other and how well we work together that will make the deciding difference”  Dorothy Irene Height – March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010


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