Senator John Heinz


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The Heinz Awards


Dorothy Height

Occasionally, the Heinz Awards program receives nominations of individuals whose life's work has been so exceptional that a special recognition - the Chairman's Medal - is considered. This year, two truly remarkable individuals, Dorothy Height and Russell Train, are being so honored for their lifetime commitments to human rights and conservation efforts, respectively.

Dr. Height can rightfully boast of a career that has spanned seven decades as a leader in the struggle for equality and human rights for all people. Her passionate commitment to lift up the poor and powerless, to advance women's rights and to promote education programs that embody the principles of self-reliance has given new meaning, courage and purpose to women, youth and families everywhere.

It is now legendary that Dr. Height was the glue that held together the often fractious, competitive and powerful coalition of men who were visible at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She was the only woman at the table with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and others as they mapped their strategy.

She went on to be the driving force behind the National Council of Negro Women for some 60 illustrious years, becoming its president in 1958. She has also dedicated more than 60 years to the Young Women's Christian Association and established and served as the first director of its Center for Racial Justice.

Dr. Height continues to play an active role in the YWCA and the National Council of Negro Women, which she serves as president emerita and chairwoman, reporting for work nearly every day in her signature hat, gloves and pearls. She remains the unwavering champion for the rights of women, people of color and a world free of discrimination.

Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.


Dorothy Height passed away on April 20th, 2010.


October 2010 - Dorothy Height's recently released book, Living With Purpose, discusses her decades of activism and her tireless work on behalf of the disenfranchised. Her 'teachers' along the journey included other historic figures like Mary McLeod Bethune, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as the ordinary people who shaped her guiding philosophy of service and purpose. The first copy of the first edition of Living With Purpose was presented to President Barack Obama, while the second and third copies went to the current presidents of the National Council of Negro Women and Delta Sigma Theta. In keeping with the presidential theme, President Bill Clinton wrote the book's foreward. -


April 2009 - Dorothy Height is the recipient of the 2009 Louis E. Martin Great American Award, awarded by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies for a career filled with far-reaching achievements spanning more than six decades -

June 2006 - Dr. Height is saluted on her lifetime commitment to justice and equality during a Congressional Black Caucus tribute at Howard University's Ira Aldridge Theater in Washington, D.C. - Jet

April 2006 - Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams gave the key to the city to Dr. Height to recognize her 70-year fight to work for civil rights, and to lift up the poor.

December 2005 - Director George Faison premieres his latest production, a tribute to Height entitled If This Hat Could Talk: The Untold Stories of Dorothy Height at the Apollo Theatre. Height sat front row center to watch the musical that is based on her latest memoir. - The New York Beacon

November 2004 - Height is honored with the J. Irwin Miller Award, presented to her by the National Council of Churches and Church World Service. The award, which is named after the National Council of Churches founder, goes to Height for her part in "the liberation struggle of black women." - Oakland Post

July 2004 - Height receives honorary alumna status from Barnard College 75 years after her acceptance from the school was rescinded because she was black. Honorary graduate status is "an accolade seldom bestowed by the school," but one which Barnard felt was owed to Height for not only being a civil rights pioneer but also in recognition of their unfair mistake. - Black Issues in Higher Education

April 2004 - Height receives a Congressional Gold Medal, Congress' highest honor, for being the "giant of the civil rights movement." - The Associated Press

October 2003 - Height is honored with a Freedom Conductor Award at a downtown gala in Cincinnati, Ohio. She receives the award for her role in the civil rights movement and continual work to "eliminate discrimination through her longtime association with the YWCA." - The Cincinnati Enquirer

July 2003 - Height, deemed the "queen" of the civil rights movement, is honored with a Legend Award from the National Urban League Conference. She receives the award at a ceremony in her hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa. - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

June 2003 - Height releases her latest book entitled "Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir", in which she recounts her childhood struggles for equality and her eventual status as a pioneer in the civil rights movement in America.

December 2002 - Height receives an honorary degree in Public Service from the University of Maryland. Dr. Height delivered the commencement speech to several hundred graduates and urged them to keep working to use their college education to fight racism and help people who did not go to college. - The Baltimore Sun

September 2002 - The National Visionary Leadership Project released it's first documentary project, "The Life and Surprising Times of Dr. Dorothy Height", at a special screening at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The project was started by co-founders Dr. Camille Cosby and former television journalist Renee Poussaint. - Indianapolis Recorder

August 2001 - Height receives the Frederick Douglass Award for her contributions to the fight for civil rights and race and gender equality. The award, which is given by the University of Maryland, was presented to Height by Maryland Governor Parris Glendening who also "declared the day of the ceremony, June 17, as 'Dorothy Height Day' in Maryland." - Black Issues in Higher Education

August 2001 - Height is honored at the Midwest Regional Black Family Reunion Celebration. Height is the creator of this tradition, which she started 15 years ago "to counter what she saw as negative perceptions of the black community." Thus, the annual event celebrates the coming together of African-Americans and the "idea of people doing action on their own behalf." - Fort Worth Star Telegram

June 2001 - Height wins National Jefferson Award for "Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen" from the American Institute for Public Service. She is honored with the award for leading "the struggle for civil and human rights for all Americans." - U.S. Newswire


3/5/2001 - Acceptance Speech

Thank you. I have the feeling that most of my life I've been trying to get this Award, because in 1925 as I was graduating from elementary school in the eighth grade in Rankin, which is a little borough of Pittsburgh ... you know, is a little larger than this room, it has about 7,000 population ... a Croatian student and I who were planning the class activities, realized that there were 57 of us and at that time, there were the Heinz 57 varieties. So, we proposed to our class that we write to H. J. Heinz and ask to be invited down to visit, to see their plant and all of the things that they had, so that we could learn more about what you would need to know if you were going to work in a place like that.

Well, the class immediately asked me to write the letter, which I did, and I now think that was my first corporate letter. So, we wrote and we were invited. And then of course, the teachers got into the act. And they said 'Well, you can't go there if you don't have your table manners' and so we learned all the things about how to use the different spoons and forks and so forth, because, in addition to having us come to the plant, H. J. Heinz said we will have all of you to lunch at the William Penn Hotel. Well, that was my first hotel meal and the preparation we did ... the 45 minutes from Rankin to downtown Pittsburgh was filled with all kinds of expectations, but we were very happy. And when we came home, all of us had our Heinz 57 pickle pin ... and in case the rest of the school didn't know that we were the Heinz 57, we wore those pins until our graduation day. So, it just seemed to me that this somehow was in the works.

But there is no way at that time, in that little town, that I would ever have dreamed, or imagined, or thought, or anything, that tonight I would receive an award ... the Heinz Award, and it would be in memory and recognition of the contribution of Senator Heinz, a politician extraordinaire, a statesman, a humanitarian, one who all of us who were working on the kinds of issues in which I work every day, found that we always had a friend. That there was ... that he had an abiding concern about Social Security. He was a friend of the earth and a friend of the earth's people that he cared about environmental justice as he did about other matters. That he was concerned about people who had pensions; those who worked all of their lives and often had nothing to show. And so, this is a special honor for me to have my name identified with the name of Senator John Heinz.

And I want to say, Teresa, that to you, it means a great deal to know that you are keeping alive his spirit and helping us all find the challenge in the work that he did. That it means so much to me to have the Chair's Medal, because it means that you have put a very special assignment on me. To be ever-vigilant, to be as concerned as the one for whom this is named, not about just one's self, but about others, and not about privilege, but making available opportunity.

I was reminded as I thought about tonight, of Alan Paton, a South African, who in the middle of the worst fights on apartheid said 'life has taught me, that in the face of man's inhumanity to man, the only way to endure is to exemplify in one's own life, man's humanity to man.' That I have tried to do, and that I will continue to try to do.

I'm inspired by a woman born of slave parents, Mary McLeod Bethune, who said 'leave no one behind' - and that was also the spirit of John Heinz. And I'm also ever drawn by the necessity to follow Martin Luther King's admonition, that we all need each other because he said 'the black man needs the white man to free him of his fear and the white man needs the black man to free him of his guilt.' And we come together in the spirit that this Award represents, in this very special dimension that the chairman herself exemplifies and inspires us. It is important that we all work together.

And so I thank you for this challenge. I thank you for this Award. We've come a long way. We have a long way to go, but we have a great model to show us the way to go, and I want to assure you that I hope to prove worthy of this award, and so long as God shall let me live, I hope to be with you in the struggle to help create not only a United States of America, but a world, in which we have not only law and order but equality and justice.

Thank you.
Dorothy Height