(ABC NEWS) -- President Obama and Congressional leaders paid tribute to Rosa Parks today, as the civil rights pioneer took her “rightful place” among those who have shaped the nation’s history.
“She defied the odds and she defied injustice,” Obama said at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks at the U.S. Capitol. “She lived a life of activism, but also a life of dignity and grace. And in a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world.”
In 1955, Parks refused to move to the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala., sparking a movement against racial prejudice with one simple act. More than half a century later, she became the first African-American woman honored with a statute in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
“So we place her here, in a chamber where many fought to prevent a day like this,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “For when the trappings of ceremony come down, people from all walks, backgrounds and beliefs will pass through here…. It will be an ordinary routine, but one that about half a century ago would have been improbable. I can think of no more perfect way to capture the vision of a more perfect union … and to continue what Rosa Parks started.”
“With this statue, we affirm that the courage and the cause of Rosa Parks not only earned her a place in the hearts of all Americans, but a permanent place among the other figures in this hall of national memory,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed. “This simple carpenter’s daughter from Tuskegee is honored as a national hero. What a story. What a legacy. What a country.”
The “seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage” continues to inspire Americans to face today’s challenges, Obama said.
“Rosa Parks tells us there’s always something we can do. She tells us that we all have responsibilities to ourselves and to one another. She reminds us that this is how change happens, not mainly through the exploits of the famous and the powerful but through the countless acts of often anonymous courage and kindness and fellow feeling and responsibility that continually, stubbornly expand our conception of justice, our conception of what is possible,” he said.
“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,” Obama said.
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