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 Home > News & Policies > March 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 24, 2004

President Commends Civil Rights Hero Dorothy Height
Capitol Rotunda

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2:02 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. (Applause.) Thank you, very much. Mr. Speaker, and Leader Frist, distinguished members of Congress, I want to thank the authors of the bill that bestowed this high honor: Senator Clinton and Senator Levin and Congresswoman Watson. Thank you all for being here to honor such a fine American.

Since the American Revolution, Congress has awarded Gold Medals to the heroes of our country. And today, we recognize a citizen who has helped to extend the promise of our founding to millions. We recognize a hero.

I'm so pleased to join with the Congress in honoring this good and gracious woman and the great life she has lived. And what a life it's been. If you know -- in the presence of Dorothy Height, you kind of -- she's such a calming influence. You realize you're in the presence of grace. But you've got to understand what she's done to realize that behind the grace, there's a will of steel -- (laughter) -- and absolute determination. (Applause.)

She's been a leader and a witness to a lot of our great history. We've heard a lot of talk about the "Big Six." As Leader Pelosi said -- I think it was Leader Pelosi -- "I sure would have liked to have been in the room. I would have liked to have seen Dorothy Height interface with some of the giants of the civil rights movement." The truth of the matter is, she was the giant of the civil rights movement. They were interfacing with her. (Laughter and applause.)

She was there when they planned the march. She was a few steps away from Dr. King's great speech at the Lincoln Memorial. She helped integrate the YWCA. She was in the South during the '60s setting up freedom schools and voter registration drives. She was in Mississippi bringing white and black women together. She was in Birmingham in 1963 comforting the mothers of that city. Condi Rice was there at the time. She's told me the story about what it was like. It would have taken a presence like Dorothy Height to instill hope and calm and confidence during that very troubled time. She helped create the Black Family Reunion. She's done a lot.

She's a woman of enormous accomplishment. She's a friend of First Ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Rodham Clinton. She's known every President since Dwight David Eisenhower. She's told every President what she thinks since Dwight David Eisenhower. (Applause.)

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.

In her recently published memoir, Dr. Height wrote, "It is in the neighborhood and communities where the world begins. That is where children grow and families are developed, where people exercise their power to change their lives." Incredibly wise words from a strong leader.

Few Americans have done more than Dorothy Height to help their fellow citizens discover and exercise their own life-changing power. Dorothy has always remembered what her mother told her when she was a girl of eight in 1920. She recalls, "My mother, always so gentle and so firm, put her arms around me. She said, 'You're a nice girl, Dorothy. You're a smart girl. And there are many things you can do.'" Mom was right. There was a lot of things she could do, and she did them, and America is a better place for it. (Applause.)

We're proud of you, Dorothy. We're honored to be in your presence. You're about to receive a Gold Medal, but perhaps the best medal we can give as a society is to continue to work for equality and justice for all. It's now my honor to join Speaker Hastert and Senator Stevens, the Senate -- the President Pro Tem of the Senate, in presenting this high award, this important award, to a great American.

May God bless you. (Applause.)

END 2:08 P.M. EST