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Posted at 8:35 PM ET, 04/27/2010

Thousands pay respects to Dorothy Height

By Erica Johnston

Thousands of people -- young and old, famous and not so -- crowded to the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women in the District Tuesday night to honor civil rights icon Dorothy Height.

Former D.C. mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly said she didn’t mind waiting more than an hour to file past the casket of Height, who died last week at the age of 98.

“She was such an exemplar of grace, dignity, perseverence," Kelly said. "And after all, she was about the only woman who was there with the leadership of the civil rights movement when they gathered” at the March on Washington in 1963.

Height, who led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, was on the stage as Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speach.

The line of those waiting to pay their final respects didn't let up in the hours after the doors of the building opened at 6 p.m. More than 1,000 people waited outside the Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters of the civil rights group shortly before 8 p.m. Visiting hours were to end at 10 p.m.

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin was also among the visitors.

“I wouln’t be here if it wasn’t for Dr. Height,” Benjamin said. “She has been such an inspiration to me. And when I was nominated by President Obama, she was the first person to come out and publicly support my nominaton.”

Celeste Paytten, a psychology major at Howard University and a member of the school's chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, was also waiting to pay her respects.

“Our group models excellence, and Dr. Height was our role model because of her service, and she was willing to help others,” she said.

-- Hamil Harris

By Erica Johnston  | April 27, 2010; 8:35 PM ET
Categories:  DC  
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