WASHINGTON – She sits tall on a rock, eyes behind her famous circle-frame glasses, staring defiantly across the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks’ 9-foot bronze statue was unveiled in a ceremony Wednesday that included remarks from President Barack Obama and leaders of Congress, echoing words of her determination and legacy for the future.
“We make excuses for inaction,” Obama said, addressing the members of Congress and guests in the National Statuary Hall. “We say to ourselves, ‘It’s not my responsibility. There’s nothing I can do.’ Rosa Parks tells us there’s always something we can do.”
The president said that if it weren’t for civil rights leaders like Parks, he wouldn’t be in office today.
Her bronze likeness joins the Capitol Hill Art Collection after a law authorizing a commemorative statue of Parks’ legacy passed about a month after her death in 2005. Its unveiling is in conjunction with Parks’ 100th birthday earlier this month.
Joining the president was House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. Attending as well was Sheila Keys, Parks’ niece, and Elaine Steele, Parks’ longtime friend.
The statue represents a series of firsts: the first full statue of an African-American woman in the Capitol, and the first to be funded and commissioned by Congress since 1873. The timing of its placement also has a sense of historical symmetry.
It’s been 50 years since the pivotal 1963 March on Washington for civil rights and 150 years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Statue designers Eugene Daub and Rob Firmin of Daub & Firmin Sculpture Studios in Kensington, Calif., beat out more than 100 artists to design and build the piece.
The partners designed the statue to reflect Parks’ determination, which is often softened in retellings of her story. Parks was a quiet woman, but she was also angry, said Firmin, who said he researched her life thoroughly. That’s why the piece shows Parks turning away from racism and sitting on a rock, to represent the rock of the Civil Rights Movement that supported her.