Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this afternoon in support of a resolution celebrating the life of Dr. Dorothy I. Height and recognizing her lifelong dedication and leadership in the struggle for human rights and equality. Below are the Speaker's remarks.
“I thank the Chairman for yielding and for giving us this opportunity to honor the life, legacy, and contributions of the godmother of the civil rights movement and a champion of social justice, Dr. Dorothy Height.
“Her loss is felt by all of us who knew her, respected her, and followed in her footsteps. But it's also felt by people who may never know her name -- but for whom she worked, for whom she led, and for whom she made a difference.
“The nation mourns the passing of this giant of American history and our thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, and the loved ones of this extraordinary woman. Men and women of every race and faith are heirs to the work, passion, and legacy of Dorothy Height.
“From her earliest days as an activist, she fought for equality under the law for every American -- recognizing that the battle for civil rights extended to African-Americans, women, and any one denied the chance to succeed because of who they are.
“For four decades, she stood at the helm of the National Council of Negro Women, continuing the struggle for an America that lived up to the ideals of liberty and opportunity for all. In every fight, Dorothy Height turned the tides of history toward progress. Because of what she achieved, schools are no longer separate and non-equal, and the voting booth is open to all striving to participate in our democracy. Because of what she did, a steady job and a decent home are not limited to a person based on their background, color of their skin, or means.
“Today, we live in an America that Dorothy Height helped to build -- a nation defined by equality, shaped by civil rights, and driven by the pursuit of justice for all. The pledge we take every day: ‘liberty and justice for all.' That's what Dorothy Height was about. I was very proud to join President Bush and House and Senate Democrats and Republicans in 2004, when we presented the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow, on Dorothy Height -- Dr. Dorothy Height.
“At that time, President George W. Bush said: ‘In the presence of Dorothy Height, you realize you are in the presence of grace. But you've got to realize that behind that grace, there is a will of steel and absolute determination.' The President went on to remind us all how Dorothy Height, and he quoted from her -- well, later he quoted from her book, but then he went on to say how Dorothy Height always stressed the importance of institutions closest to us -- our families, our churches, and our neighborhoods. He said: ‘She understands that those institutions are important in shaping the character of an individual, and therefore, the character of our nation.' President Bush -- the President of the United States, imagine? -- even quoted Dorothy Height's memoir where she wrote: ‘It is in the neighborhoods and the communities where the world begins. That is where children grow and families are developed, where people exercise the power to change their lives.' The President of the United States quoting Dorothy Height as we presented her with a Congressional Gold Medal.
“It's important to note that with all of those honors it was also a pleasure for us to hear from Dr. Alexis Herman. She was the Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and Secretary Herman is very, very close personally and professionally and in every way to Dorothy Height and that time she sang her praises, talked about what she did in the civil rights movement, what she did to advance women and young girls and the rest. But she also talked about how she made the best sweet potato pie. So, personally, professionally, patriotically, Dorothy Height was all systems go.
“I was passed a note because I was asking about a film that I recently saw on TV that I hope can be available now. It is called ‘The Life and Surprising Times of Dorothy Height.' It is an inspirational presentation of the life of a person -- a person who is instilled by her own mother with the idea that she could do whatever she set out to do and had a responsibility to do so. Over a lifetime, over Dorothy Height's lifetime, in the trenches for social justice, human rights, and equality, Dorothy Height advocated on behalf of our neighborhoods and our communities. She stood tall for our children and families, she truly exercised her power to change lives.
“As we state in our resolution today, Dorothy Height was a tenacious and zealous civil rights activist, social worker, advocate, educator, and organizer in the quest for equality. And I join my colleague, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, in focusing on that equality for women as well.
“I last saw Dorothy Height about a month ago at the 70th birthday party for John Lewis, our colleague. As others regaled us about stories of the civil rights movement -- there she sat, dignified as a queen, reigning over the proceedings, one who had seen it all, seen the struggle, seen the change.
“And recognized then by the Congress of the United States, and now, in her passing, by the entire nation. Our country is better off because of Dorothy Height's commitment, compassion, grace, and patriotism. We will miss her tenacity and zeal in the fight for equality -- our nation's heritage and hope. We will each take inspiration from the story of progress and her countless victories for the American people.”