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Height Honored With Memorial at GWU

Dorothy Rowley | 3/31/2011, 1:10 a.m.
George Washington University President Steven Knapp and Barbara L. Shaw, chair, National Council of Negro Women during the official unveiling of a bench in honor of the late Dorothy I. Height on Thu., March 24, at The George Washington University School Without Walls in Northwest. / Courtesy photo by Jessica McConnell Burt / The George Washington University  

Late Civil Rights Icon Would Have Celebrated 99th Birthday


About 150 admirers of the late Dr. Dorothy Height came together last week to commemorate her birthday - an occasion that also celebrated her legacy - during a two-hour event at the George Washington University School Without Walls in the city's historic Foggy Bottom neighborhood in Northwest.

Height died in April 2010 and would have celebrated her 99th birthday on March 24.

Barbara Shaw, president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), said although Height has been gone for a year, the organization intends to keep her memory alive.

"We don't think of her as not living. We are going to keep her [memory] alive forever," Shaw said.

"As we celebrate [Dr. Height's] birthday in a grand fashion with an educational institution honoring her, we know she's looking down smiling at us."

A bench honoring the civil rights icon has been added to a heritage trail in Foggy Bottom -- which for more than 100 years was a predominantly African-American community.

Bernard Demczuk, 63, a George Washington University African-American studies professor, said that Height's memorial sits among 32 other historical sites located in Foggy Bottom.

"Dr. Height was a model of public service, for world justice and equality and a scholar," Demczuk said. "These are the very attributes that we teach and instill in our students, therefore she is a model for our students and we want to demonstrate that appreciation of her with a physical memorial on our campus."

Demczuk added that the bench -- symbolic in both literature and philosophy - will be a place to rest, think and appreciate.

"That's why we dedicate a bench to her, with a plaque, to remind those who will, to sit and think about why she was such a model citizen for our country," he said.

Known for her eye-catching hats and matching outfits, Height listed many accomplishments during her life as a public servant: she was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years from 1957 to 1997 as well as its president emeritus until her death.

She served as national president of Delta Sigma Theta from 1946 to 1957, and at age 92, Height was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush.

Last year, President Barack Obama signed the "Dorothy Height Bill," which designated the main U.S. postal facility on Massachusetts Avenue in Northeast, as the Dorothy I. Height Post Office.

Rosemary Segro, a native of Kenya, South Africa, also attended the commemoration. She donned a wide-brim lilac hat and matching suit reminiscent of Height's attire.

"Dorothy Height was my favorite lady," Segro, 56, said.

"I was at the Cathedral by 6 a.m. the day of her funeral. I had to come and be part of [the] celebration because her legacy does continue," she said. "People are always talking about her, so she is still with us in spirit."

At the same time Height was being honored in the District, she was also being paid homage by her hometown, Richmond, Va., where Gov. Bob McDonnell praised her as "an unsung heroine" in the struggle for equality.

George Washington University President Steven Knapp and Barbara L. Shaw, chair, National Council of Negro Women during the official unveiling of a bench in honor of the late Dorothy I. Height on Thu., March 24, at The George Washington University
School Without Walls in Northwest. / Courtesy photo by Jessica McConnell Burt / The George Washington University