BUSH HEIGHT CLINTON
Susan Walsh  /  AP
Women's rights champion and civil rights leader Dorothy Height, center, is greeted by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as President Bush looks on.
updated 3/24/2004 4:40:04 PM ET 2004-03-24T21:40:04

Hailing Dorothy Height as “the giant of the civil rights movement,” President Bush on Wednesday presented her with the Congressional Gold Medal.


Height, who turned 92 on Wednesday, accepted Congress’ highest honor under the vaulted dome of the Capitol Rotunda to warm applause from lawmakers.


“I daresay there never was a birthday celebration like this one and it means a great deal to me,” Height said.


She served more than 30 years as the president of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization dedicating to uplifting black women and their communities. She also held several leadership positions in the YWCA, where she advocated progressive policies embracing minorities.


In 1964, she organized a series of informal dialogues between white and black women from the North and South called “Wednesdays in Mississippi.”


Citing those and other Height contributions, Bush called her a hero who has “helped to extend the promise of our founding to millions.”


“She’s a woman of enormous accomplishment,” the president said. “She’s a friend of first ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She’s known every president since Dwight David Eisenhower. She’s told every president what she thinks since Dwight David Eisenhower.”


Bush recalled that Height was the only woman in the “Big 6,” a group of black activists that included Martin Luther King Jr.


“Truth of the matter is, she was the giant of the civil rights movement,” he said.
More recently, she has won international recognition for her work promoting AIDS education.


Height said she accepted the medal “on behalf of the millions of people, particularly women, whose work goes unnoticed.”


Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., said Height “has left a lasting legacy not only for African-American families but the country as a whole.”


Since George Washington received the first Congressional Gold Medal in 1776, Congress has bestowed the honor on some 300 people, including Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Rosa Parks and President and Nancy Reagan.

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