Two rooms packed with people were completely quiet as President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner unveiled a statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks on Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. D.C.
“You could hear a pin drop, then all of a sudden both rooms erupted in applause,” said Galloway Township’s Brian Jackson, chief of staff for the president of Richard Stockton College. He attended the unveiling with Ralph Hunter, founder of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey in the Newtonville section of Buena Vista Township.
They were in an overflow room, watching the unveiling in Statuary Hall on a video screen.
“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.”
Parks is portrayed seated, wearing a hat and clutching her trademark purse. She is best known for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man. Her arrest in 1955 led to the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, which ended in 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court found that segregation on city buses was illegal.
As the unveiling was taking place, the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing a case dealing with voting rights, Jackson said.
“That was not lost on any of us,” Jackson said. “It’s a very important case that could have a lasting effect on people’s ability to vote. And that’s another thing she was fighting hard for — to make sure everyone has the right to vote.”
Emotions ran high, Hunter said.
“You could feel the tears coming from Speaker Boehner’s eyes as he talked about the important role Rosa Parks played,” Hunter said.
“Here in the hall, she casts an unlikely silhouette — unassuming in a lineup of proud stares, challenging all of us once more to look up and to draw strength from stillness,” said Boehner, R-Ohio.
Jackson said the sculpture itself is extraordinary.
“The bronze is a unique caramel ... color,” unlike any others in the room, which is the old House Chamber, Jackson said.
And the Parks statue is the only full-length representation of either a female or an African-American in Statuary Hall. There are busts of Sojourner Truth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Hunter said.
Hunter and Jackson were invited to the event by members of Parks’ family. Parks’ niece Shirley McCauley attended a celebration of the U.S. Postal Service’s Rosa Parks stamp at the Newtonville museum Feb. 9, just days after its national unveiling on what would have been Parks’ 100th birthday.
The statue was created by sculptor Eugene L. Daub and co-designer Rob L. Firmin. It is the first full-size statue to be funded by Congress since 1873. Congress authorized it in 2005, shortly after Parks died at age 92 and became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.
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