WASHINGTON — More than 50 years after Rosa Parks helped kindle the civil-rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama, she has become the first black woman to be honored with a life-size statue in the Capitol.
At a dedication ceremony Wednesday attended by dozens of Parks’ relatives, President Obama and congressional leaders paid tribute to Parks, whose act of defiance and work in the civil-rights movement helped spur desegregation across the country and the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Almost simultaneously with the ceremony, the landmark law was facing a legal challenge at the Supreme Court, across the street from the Capitol.
“This morning, we celebrate a seamstress, slight of stature but mighty in courage,” Obama said.
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The statue of Parks captures her waiting to be arrested on Dec. 1, 1955, after she refused to give up her seat for a white passenger on a crowded segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala. She is seated, dressed in a heavy wool coat and clutching her purse as she looks out of an unseen window waiting for the police to cart her off to jail.
“In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world,” Obama said.
He chronicled how Parks, despite having held no elected office, lacking wealth and living far from the seat of power, touched off a movement that made it possible for him to become president.
“And today, she takes her rightful place among those who shaped this nation’s course,” he said. “We do well by placing a statue of her here. But we can do no greater honor than to remember and to carry forward the power of her principle and a courage born of conviction.”
The statue of Parks will sit in Statuary Hall, where lawmakers frequently pass on their way to vote, and where, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio noted, she sits in the gaze of Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi senator who was appointed president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Parks’ decision to get arrested rather than to give up her seat helped unite the country.
“For some, Rosa Parks served as an inspiration to stand up against injustice,” he said. “For others, she was a spur to reflection and self-examination, and the reconciliation of cherished ideals of freedom, democracy and constitutional rights with the reality of life as others lived it.”
Urana McCauley, Parks’ niece, cried throughout the hourlong program. At 42, she is the same age that her aunt was when she was arrested.
“We talked about what it was like and how important it was for her to do what she did,” she said. “It’s so personal because I know what my aunt went through. And it was beyond just being physically tired. She was tired of the injustice.”
Parks, who would have turned 100 on Feb. 4, has received the highest civilian honors from the White House and Congress, and her face has been on a postage stamp. When she died in 2005, she was the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, an honor usually reserved for former lawmakers and presidents. She also served as a congressional aide on the staff of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.
Her statue adds to a small collection of art devoted to prominent black women in the Capitol that includes a bust of Sojourner Truth and a painting of Shirley Chisholm.
The statue was the first commissioned by Congress in 140 years. It was designed by Robert Firman and sculpted by Eugene Daub.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson attended the dedication ceremony. His son Jesse Jackson Jr., a former congressman, introduced the legislation to commission the statue of Parks with John Kerry, now the secretary of state. After the ceremony, the elder Jackson remembered Parks as a fighter.