Washington, D.C., power players put aside their rivalries Feb. 27 to unveil a statue of Rosa Parks in its permanent home on Capitol Hill.
The full length sculpture, featuring a seated Parks with her hair tucked under a hat, legs and arms crossed and her hand clasping a purse, is the first of a Black woman to be displayed in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, though a bust of abolitionist Sojourner Truth sits in the Capitol Visitors’ Center.
President Obama praised Parks as a woman “slight in stature but mighty in courage,” who stood as an example of true leadership.
"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."
Joining the president were House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), civil rights leaders and others.
Working together in a rare showing of cooperation, President Obama and the House Republican leader stood on either side of a blue drape, pulling on both ends of a braided gold cord until the cloth fell to reveal the 2,700 pound bronze statue, according to an Associated Press description.
Boehner commented on Parks' positioning between statues of suffragette Frances E. Willard and John Gorrie, considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning, and right across from Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, on whom her gaze seems fixed.
"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," Boehner said as quoted by the AP.
Parks, a seamstress by trade, was always unassuming, though “Nobody ever bossed Rosa around and got away with it,” Obama quoted a childhood friend as saying. She proved that on Dec. 1, 1955, in segregated Montgomery, Ala., when she refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a White man. The NAACP secretary was arrested, sparking a year-long boycott that eventually ended in desegregated public transportation.
Parks’ civil disobedience and the sacrifice of the hundreds of African Americans who walked with tired feet along dusty roads to avoid the city’s buses is why “I stand here today,” said Obama. “It is because of them that our children grow up in a land more free and more fair; a land truer to its founding creed.
“And that is why this statue belongs in this hall — to remind us, no matter how humble or lofty our positions, just what it is that leadership requires; just what it is that citizenship requires.”
Dozens of Park’s relatives attended the ceremony. Many of them expressed pleasure that their ancestor—who died in 2005 at age 92—was being honored, but they also reiterated that more Americans needed to follow her example in fighting against injustice.
"Racism is a continual struggle," Zakiya McCauley Watts, 28, of Detroit, told the AP.
"We have the laws, but we have to have the mindset to back that up. People see all types of injustice happening and no one is doing anything about it," Watts added.
A cousin, Faye Jenkins, 28, of Cincinnati, Ohio, said Parks’ statue will remind the younger generation "to always just do the right thing."