President Obama dedicates Rosa Parks statue in United States Capitol building.
2/28/2013, 3:51 p.m.
It's been often remarked that Rosa Parks's activism didn't begin on that bus. Long before she made headlines, she had stood up for freedom, stood up for equality -- fighting for voting rights, rallying against discrimination in the criminal justice system, serving in the local chapter of the NAACP. Her quiet leadership would continue long after she became an icon of the civil rights movement, working with Congressman Conyers to find homes for the homeless, preparing disadvantaged youth for a path to success, striving each day to right some wrong somewhere in this world.
And yet our minds fasten on that single moment on the bus -- Ms. Parks alone in that seat, clutching her purse, staring out a window, waiting to be arrested. That moment tells us something about how change happens, or doesn't happen; the choices we make, or don't make. "For now we see through a glass, darkly," Scripture says, and it's true. Whether out of inertia or selfishness, whether out of fear or a simple lack of moral imagination, we so often spend our lives as if in a fog, accepting injustice, rationalizing inequity, tolerating the intolerable.
Like the bus driver, but also like the passengers on the bus, we see the way things are -- children hungry in a land of plenty, entire neighborhoods ravaged by violence, families hobbled by job loss or illness -- and we make excuses for inaction, and we say to ourselves, that's not my responsibility, there's nothing I can do.
Rosa Parks tell 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.
Rosa Parks's singular act of disobedience launched a movement. The tired feet of those who walked the dusty roads of Montgomery helped a nation see that to which it had once been blind. It is because of these men and women that I stand here today. It is because of them that our children grow up in a land more free and more fair; a land truer to its founding creed.
And 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. Rosa Parks would have turned 100 years old this month. We do well by placing a statue of her here. 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.
May God bless the memory of Rosa Parks, and may God bless these United States of America. (Applause.)