President Obama and leaders of Congress dedicated a statue of civil-rights hero Rosa Parks on Wednesday in a moving ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, marking the first time a black woman has been honored with a place in National Statuary Hall.
The caramel-colored stone depicts Parks seated in a dress and clutching her purse as she stares ahead, stoically, in a representation of her refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in the 1950s. The moment is widely recognized as a pivotal moment in America’s path toward racial desegregation.
Parks, who died in 2005 at age 92, would come to be called the “first lady of civil rights,” and her place in the Capitol puts her among the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton and Ulysses S. Grant.
“This is a good time and good place to honor the most honorable woman,” Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told the crowded hall.
The dedication marked an unusually harmonious moment in Washington, as members of a deadlocked Congress bicker among themselves and with Mr. Obama over the nation’s debt. One by one, the nation’s leaders took to the podium with anecdotes of Parks’ childhood and remarks on what her moment of courage has meant to the evolution of the nation.
Mr. Obama quoted a childhood friend of Parks as saying, “nobody ever bossed Rosa around and got away with it.”
“That’s what an Alabama driver learned on Dec. 1, 1955,” the president said.
Parks’ refusal to comply with driver James Blake’s orders resulted in her arrest and sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted for more than a year before blacks boarded the buses once more and “sat in whatever seat happened to be open,” Mr. Obama said.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said her legacy is a reminder that all are created equal, yet “some grow to be larger than life and to be honored as such.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, noted that Parks made a childhood hymn, “O Freedom, Let it Ring,” into “the anthem of her life and the mission of her life,” and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, praised Parks as someone “who moved the world, when she refused to move her seat.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Parks might not have defeated the British, given speeches in Congress or explored the Western wilderness.
“Yet with quiet courage and unshakable resolve,” he said, “she did something no less important on a cold Alabama evening in 1955.”