The memory of Rosa Parks, the civil rights leader best remembered for refusing to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white man more than a half century ago, was honored Wednesday with the unveiling of a statue commissioned by Congress to stand side-by-side with the nation’s great leaders in the U.S. Capitol.
It is the first replica of an African-American woman to be placed in Statuary Hall.
Though an impressive nine feet tall, the dark marble statue is considerably smaller than its neighbors, reflecting Parks’s slight frame. Sculptor Rob Firmin told U.S. News & World Report that he chose to depict the civil rights pioneer sitting, with her hands folded in her lap, though not on a bus. “That would trivialize things,” Firmin told U.S. News. “It’s about her, not about a bus.”
President Obama honored a woman he described as “slight in stature but mighty in courage,” at the unveiling Wednesday. Congressional and civil rights leaders, along with more than 50 of Parks’s relatives, attended the ceremony.
In a poignant speech, the nation’s first African-American president reflected on the contributions of a woman whose single act of defiance spurred a 385-day boycott of the bus system, leading the Supreme Court to overturn segregation on public transportation and introducing a young civil rights leader named Martin Luther King, Jr. to the nation.
“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,” Obama told the crowd assembled in Parks’s honor.
“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.”
Upon her death in October 2005, Parks body laid in State at the Capitol Rotunda, one of the nation’s greatest honors. A month later, former President George W. Bush urged Congress to commission a statue in her memory. Congress did, authorizing its first full-size contribution to Statuary Hall since 1973.