Civil rights leader Dorothy Height received a special birthday present on Wednesday. As she marked her 92nd birthday, she was honored by the nation for her lifelong contribution to American freedom and civil rights.
At a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, President Bush presented Dorothy Height with what is considered to be the nation's highest expression of appreciation to an individual - the Congressional Gold Medal.
"Since the American Revolution, Congress has awarded gold medals to the heroes of our nation," the president said. "And today we recognize a citizen who has helped extend the promise of our founding to millions. We recognize a hero."
Ms. Height was recognized for her lifetime devotion to the struggle for equality, social justice, and human rights for all peoples. She was, the President noted, the only woman who was at the table when Martin Luther King made plans for the Civil Rights Movement.
"I sure would have liked to have been in the room," Mr. Bush said. "I would have liked to have seen Dorothy Height interface with some of the giants of the Civil Rights Movement. Truth of the matter is, she was a giant of the Civil Rights Movement. They were interfacing with her. 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 60's, setting up freedom schools and voter registration drives. She was in Mississippi, bringing white women and black women together."
Dorothy Height began her public career more than 65 years ago, as a consultant to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. From 1957 to 1998, she served as the President of the National Council of Negro Women. She continues to serve as chair for that organization, which represents four million black women and offers job training and educational opportunities to help them meet their goals. In 1993, Ms. Height told VOA that her work gave her energy to remain active at an age when many Americans are well into retirement:
"As I look back, through all the years, I always had a desire to make life better, not only for myself but for others," said Ms. Height. "I think that when you do that, what you find is that you are not alone. If you keep moving along, you will find you will increasingly have people to join you. That for me has been the driving force. I believe there is so much people can do if we work together. I have spent most of my life working in that direction, and it keeps you moving."
The Congressional Gold Medal was just the latest in a number of honors Dorothy Height has received for her lifetime of work promoting civil rights.