WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama and congressional leaders unveiled a full-length statue of civil-rights icon Rosa Parks in the Capitol on Wednesday, paying tribute to a figure whose name became synonymous with courage in the face of injustice.
Parks becomes the first black woman to be honored with a full-length statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. A bust of another black woman, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, sits in the Capitol Visitors Center.
Obama said that with the installation of the statue, Parks, who died in 2005, has taken her rightful place among those who have shaped the course of U.S. history. He said her presence in the Capitol would serve to “remind us no matter how humble or lofty our positions, just what it is that leadership requires.”
Obama and House Speaker John Boehner jointly led the unveiling, standing with the statue between them as they grasped and pulled in opposite directions on the braided cord that held the covering. Congressional leaders in the House and Senate joined Parks’ niece in tugging on the cord.
“We do well by placing a statue of her here,” Obama said, “but we can do no greater honor to her memory than to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.”
The statue portrays Parks seated, wearing a hat and clutching her trademark purse — “a permanent reminder of the cause she embodied,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The several hundred lawmakers, family and congressional staff who gathered for the ceremony in the vaulted hall rose to their feet and whooped as Boehner opened the ceremony.
“Here in the hall, she casts an unlikely silhouette — unassuming in a lineup of proud stares, challenging all of us once more to look up and to draw strength from stillness,” said Boehner, R-West Chester.
Parks is famous for her 1955 refusal to give up her seat on a city bus in Alabama to a white man.
Parks died Oct. 24, 2005, at age 92. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor on Feb. 4, which would have been her 100th birthday.