Honoring Dr. Height
By Shantella Sherman
Thursday, March 2, 2006
What becomes a legend most? In the case of grand dame Dorothy Height, it is being honored by one of the nation’s most dedicated (if not under-recognized) civil rights organizations, The Washington Interdependence Council. With a mission to propagate the efforts and commemorate the endeavors of colonial African American hero, Benjamin Banneker, Washington Interdependence Council chose to honor the legacy of Height as a rare keeper of Banneker’s revolutionary flame.
The star-studded Who's Who Salute to Dr. Dorothy Height celebration was a part of the Council’s 10 th Anniversary celebration and the precursor to other planned events to bring attention to their continued efforts to memorialize Banneker.
Celebrity entertainment was provided by Jazz legend, Ron Holloway; renowned singing phenomenon, Tata Vega (of Color Purple fame); and Al Johnson. A host of surprise entertainment and other living legend social, civic, and political luminaries, including Walter Fauntroy, C. Payne Williams and Secretary Rodney Slater. Channel 9 ( WUSA) news anchor Tracey Neale served as emcee and host of the evening, which was co-chaired by former Secretary of Labor, The Hon. Alexis Herman and recorded by acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Nelson, recipient of an Emmy Award for his 2003 film, The Murder of Emmett Till, for an upcoming documentary.
Women were encouraged to don hats, to pay homage to Height’s legendary dress style.
Celebrating America's Grande Dame Matriarchs: A Who's Who Salute to Dr. Dorothy Height examined Height’s human rights campaigns to break down social conditions and social injustice both in America and Africa. Dr. Height rose to international prominence in the 1960's as a part of the 1963 March on Washington Big Six civil rights leaders – A. Phillip Randolph; Roy Wilkins; James Farmer; John Lewis; Whitney Young and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps her crowning long term achievement was leading the NCNW in retiring the debt on the only Black-owned building on Pennsylvania Avenue, an historic mansion with a long historic record.
“It was a wonderful event and it was very important that so many historical figures came out to pay homage to Dr. Height. Specifically in terms of the African American community and her spending more than 70 years supporting councils and organizations with an historical agenda,” said Peggy Seats, Founder of WIC.
Seats said organizations whose missions are of an historical nature are often overlooked by philanthropy. Particularly among African Americans, supporting organizations charged with preserving Black history and culture has little priority. Even among the powerful and learned, Seats said, Height is a rarity.
“Seventy-five percent of the Black people in this country who are considered wealthy got their foundational fortune built on the backs of Black people. But people like Cathy Hughes, who wouldn’t even take out a one-page ad and Sheila Johnson, who said her philanthropic focus was concentrated on Middleburg, refuse to support us. We’ve been asking for ten years for their support and been turned down every year,” said Seats.
The Council and Seats’ uphill battle to impress upon prominent and not-so-prominent Blacks alike that there is power in embracing their history, is one shared by many Black organizations. The reward, said Seats, is honoring only those within the community who find value in Black America and who haven’t become detracted from those around them.
“This is one reason why it was important to honor Dr. Height. She heads the only organization that has successfully built a memorial – The Mary McLoud Bethune House – in D.C. Dr. Height has a firm grasp on Black America and an understanding that there is nothing in greater disrepair right now than the Black family. She started the Black Family Reunion to try to get Blacks to embrace one another and address our collective needs. For these types of endeavors, we were proud to honor Dr. Height,” said Seats.
Height assisted in getting Congressional authorization for The Washington Interdependence Council.
Copyright, Washington Interdependence Council, 2011