In receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by Congress, Dorothy Height joined a distinguished list of recipients -- which include Pope John Paul the Second, Mother Theresa and [World War II era British Prime Minister] Winston Churchill.
Ms. Height has worked almost 70 years to improve the situation of women and black Americans. President Bush presented Ms. Height, with the gold medal at a ceremony at the U-S Capitol Building, on her 92nd birthday, Wednesday.
President Bush said,"I find it really interesting that Dorothy Height has always stressed the importance of institutions closest to us: our families, our churches, and our neighborhoods. She understands that those institutions are important in shaping the character of an individual, and therefore, the character of the nation."
Ms. Height's work includes decades of service in the Young Women's Christian Association,as well as 40 years as President of the National Council of Negro Women -- one of the nation's pre-eminent black women's organizations.
Along the way, she led campaigns against racial segregation and worked to register voters and to empower women.
In her acceptance speech, Ms. Height paid tribute to black women and to their role in raising families, often against difficult odds:
Ms. Height said,"African-American women seldom do just what they want to do but always do what they have to do."
Ms. Height appeared grateful, but also forceful, during her remarks -- making it very clear she would continue to speak her mind on the issues close to her heart as long as it was possible for her to do so.
Ms. Height said,"This award, this gold medal, will mean a great deal to me. I will cherish it. But it also gives me renewed faith and renewed sense of urgency for the work yet to be done. And I want you to know that so long as God shall let me live, I want to be out there, working to help to see what needs to be done and making whatever contribution I can make, doing it not for myself but for others, not by myself but with others, and for the betterment of us all."
As head of the National Council of Negro women Ms. Height personally lobbied every President from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton to help improve the situation of blacks and women.
Although retired from the organization since 1998, she continues to speak at public events, calling for racial and gender equality.