Civil rights icon Rosa Parks took her place in the U.S. Capitol Wednesday morning, as a statue of the woman who helped spark a movement was unveiled in Statuary Hall.
“This morning, we celebrate a seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage,” President Barack Obama said at the unveiling, which was attended by a slew of congressional and civil rights leaders, many of whom worked alongside Parks during the civil rights movement. “In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world.”
The bronze statue of Parks is the first statue in the Capitol to depict an African-American woman, and is also the first statue to be ordered by Congress since 1873.
The 9-foot bronze depicts Parks in her iconic, seated position on that Montgomery, Ala., bus on Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. She sparked a more than year-long boycott of the bus system that helped end legal racial segregation in the South.
Notably, the statue faces that of Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy during the Civil War, who fought to preserve the institution of slavery that reduced African-Americans to property.
“We place her here, in a chamber where many fought to prevent a day like this, and right in the gaze of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy,” Speaker John A. Boehner said at the ceremony. “It brings to mind Lady Liberty herself, rising amid the titans of finance and presiding over New York Harbor, the promise of America clear for all to see.”
The statue was unveiled eight years after it was ordered by Congress, on the same day that the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a challenge to the landmark Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting rules.
Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina noted the significance of the statue’s unveiling being held at the same time as the court’s hearing, saying that although much progress has been made for racial equality in America, there is still work to be done.
“The struggle goes on, the movement continues, the pursuit is not over,” Clyburn said.
This is not the first time Parks has been honored by Congress. She received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by Congress, in 1999. And when she died in October 2005, she became the first woman and the second non-governmental official to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.