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Pelosi Remarks at Rosa Parks Statue Unveiling Ceremony

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at a ceremony unveiling the statue commemorating the life of the mother of the Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks, in the United States Capitol.  Below are the Leader’s remarks:

“Good morning.  Mr. President, Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Mr. Speaker, my colleague, Mr. Clyburn, Members of Congress, House and Senate, distinguished guests.  Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for making this day possible.  Thank you so much. 

[Applause]

“One distinguished guest who is not with us, maybe has come late, is John Lewis.  We were on the steps of the Supreme Court earlier this morning, Mr. Clyburn stayed until the start of the program, Mr. John Lewis is holding forth over that.  It is an honor to serve in the Congress of the United States with John Lewis.  And it is a joy to be here to honor Rosa Parks.

“When Rosa Parks was a little baby, her mother sang her the hymn, ‘Oh Freedom, Let It Ring.’  She would hear that hymn in church too as she grew up.  It became the anthem of her life, and the mission of her life.  As Rosa Parks would say years later: ‘I’d like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free and wanted other people to be free, too.’

“Rosa Parks is being remembered with this statue in the Capitol – but this is not the first time her greatness has been recognized here.  She has many connections to Congress.  She was no stranger to these halls.  She was recognized with a Congressional Gold Medal, inscribed with the title, ‘mother of the modern-day civil rights movement,’ and with the words, ‘quiet strength – pride, dignity, courage.’  That was a great day, when we honored her.  She had personal connection to the House, as the Speaker mentioned; for 18 years, she was an assistant to John Conyers, John Conyers.

[Applause]

“And they worked together, they worked together to advance the cause of civil rights and equality.  We always ask Mr. Conyers to tell us stories about Rosa Parks, tell us stories about Rosa Parks, and one that I think is appropriate at this time is: well, John Conyers first met her when he was just out of school.  He traveled south to join the civil rights movement after law school and he met her then.  She would come to – she worked on his first campaign and she would later become his first congressional hire, the first person he hired on his congressional staff.  What a beautiful connection. 

“Well, pretty soon, Mr. Conyers found out that people were visiting the office to see Rosa Parks and not the Congressman.  In fact, she was invited all over the country to be honored and, how about this Mr. President, one day she went to him and she said she wanted to thank him for allowing her to be honored all over the country and she’d be willing to take a pay cut for her time away from the office. 

“Because of the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus, and that of Leader Reid and then-Speaker Hastert, Rosa Parks was the first woman to lie in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol of the United States. 

“From her birth, her mother had sung of letting freedom ring.  How proud her mama would be to see her baby eulogized at her passing by two Presidents former President, Bill Clinton, and a future President, Barack Obama.  Imagine that.  I had the privilege of speaking at her funeral too, but what can you say in the company of that greatness?  Well, what I said was that legislation had been introduced by Jesse Jackson Jr. and Senator John Kerry to place a statue of Rosa Parks in the Capitol of the United States.  It got an uproarious reaction to it – what can you say amongst Presidents past and future, preachers from all over the country – a statue in the Capitol.  I promised them that the legislation would pass, and quickly, and that funeral was November 2nd.  And on December 1st, President George W. Bush signed it into law – 50 years to the day that Rosa Parks sat down on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Fifty years to the day. 

“So, Rosa Parks is here, right at home in the Capitol, joining Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many other American heroes.  She will inspire all who walk these halls, especially young people, with her ‘quiet strength,’ her pride, her dignity, and her courage.

“I told you how Rosa Parks was recognized by Congress and friends of Congress; now I’d like to share with you comments from one of my invited guests, the baseball great, Willie Mays, my fellow Californian, born in Alabama – he saw the same injustices as Rosa Parks did as he was growing up.  He couldn’t be here today, but he sent a letter, and he said I could share these words about her.  He said more than this and I gave a complete letter to Sheila Keys, Rosa’s niece.  He said: ‘Most times, change doesn’t happen fast.  Most times, it happens bit by bit, little by little, one person’s actions inspiring another.  Rosa Parks simply did what was natural.  She was tired, so she sat down.  And that simple act sparked outrage, and that outrage spread, and one person’s actions inspired change.’  He went on to say: ‘We will try to remember to encourage change when it serves justice.  And, today, we will remember with admiration, the simple act of a brave woman.  We will remember; we will honor Rosa Parks.’

“Lovely words from a fellow Alabaman, all-American icon, Willie Mays.  By dedicating this statue, we honor Rosa Parks for her bravery, for serving justice, and for inspiring change.  May this statue long be a tribute to her strength and spirit, her legacy and her leadership.  May God bless the memory of Rosa Parks.  Thank you.”