WASHINGTON — The nation's most powerful politicians honored Rosa Parks on Wednesday by unveiling her statue in a permanent place in the U.S. Capitol. President Barack Obama praised Parks as an enduring reminder of what true leadership requires, "no matter how humble or lofty our positions."

Parks became the first black woman to be depicted in a full-length statue in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. A bust of another black woman, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, sits in the Capitol Visitors Center.

"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."

The unveiling brought Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders together in the midst of a fierce standoff over automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on Friday.

Setting that conflict aside, Obama and Boehner stood on either side of a blue drape, tugging and pulling in opposite directions on a braided cord until the cover fell to reveal a 2,700-pound bronze statue of a seated Parks, her hair in a bun under a hat, her hands crossed over her lap and clasping her purse. Obama gazed up at it, and touched its arm.

At the same time across the street, conservative Supreme Court justices voiced skepticism about the relevance of the Voting Rights Act, one of the major legislative victories of the movement to which Parks devoted her life.

Parks' civil rights movement colleague Jesse Jackson, whose son former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. sponsored the bill to place Parks' statue in the Capitol, said Parks "fought her way into history," and on three occasions, took literacy tests required of blacks who wanted to vote. She passed all three, Jackson said.

Parks' statue is positioned between those of suffragist Frances E. Willard and John Gorrie, considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning. Boehner, R-Ohio, pointed out that Parks' gaze seems to fall directly onto a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

"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," Boehner said.

Parks died in 2005 at age 92. Dozens of her family members, many of them nieces and nephews, attended Wednesday's ceremony and said they were pleased to see their ancestor honored.

"Racism is a continual struggle," said Zakiya McCauley Watts, 28, of Detroit. "We have the laws, but we have to have the mindset to back that up. People see all types of injustice happening and no one is doing anything about it," Watts said.

Watts' cousin Faye Jenkins, 28, of Cincinnati, Ohio, said she volunteers with inner-city youth providing counseling, helping teenage moms and working with the homeless. She said the statue of Parks will tell the younger generation "to always just do the right thing."

On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man in segregated Montgomery, Ala. She was arrested, touching off a bus boycott that stretched over a year.

Her act of disobedience, and the masses of protesters who walked for months on end rather than break the boycott, are the reason "that I stand here today," the president said.

"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," Obama said. "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."

Some at the event echoed Obama's sentiment.

"The struggle goes on. The movement continues. The pursuit is not over. To honor Rosa Parks in the fullest manner each of us must do our part to protect that which has been gained," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.

Dorthula Green, 58, took an early train from New Haven, Conn., to join a line of ticketholders waiting in the Rotunda to see the statue on its debut.

"When I heard that this was happening, I said, `I gotta be here,'" Green said. "I grew up in South Carolina. I knew the history and the kinds of things she went through."

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Follow Suzanne Gamboa at http://twitter.com/APsgamboa

Loading Slideshow...
  • Barack Obama, John Boehner

    President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio applaud at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Barack Obama, John Boehner

    President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio applaud at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama speaks at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, left, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Barack Obama, John Boehner

    President Barack Obama, left, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio sit during a ceremony to dedicate a statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama speaks in the Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, during the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, second from left. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Barack Obama, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi

    President Barack Obama, along with, from left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., stand for the trooping of the colors at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Mitch McConnell, Barack Obama, John Boehner

    President Barack Obama and congressional leaders set aside their political battles at a ceremony to dedicate a statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, rear, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Parks helped invigorate the civil rights movement in December 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in segregated Montgomery, Ala. From left to are, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., the president, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Barack Obama, Jessica Jackson

    President Barack Obama hugs Jessica Jackson, the daughter of former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson, after the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, rear, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Barack Obama, John Boehner

    President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio applaud at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • United States Capitol

    Riggers load a crate containing the bronze statue of Rosa Parks onto a basket suspended from a crane as it is delivered to the U.S. Capitol's Memorial Door, in Washington, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, where it will join the U.S. Capitol Art Collection. Authorized by Public Law 109-116, as modified by Public Law 110-120, the Rosa Parks statue represents the first commission of a full-sized statue approved and funded by the U.S. Congress since 1873. It was installed in National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol on February 27, 2013.

  • United States Capitol

    A bronze statue of Rosa Parks is delivered to the U.S. Capitol's Memorial Door by a crane, in Washington, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, where it will join the U.S. Capitol Art Collection. Authorized by Public Law 109-116, as modified by Public Law 110-120, the Rosa Parks statue represents the first commission of a full-sized statue approved and funded by the U.S. Congress since 1873. It was installed in National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol on February 27, 2013.

  • Barack Obama, John Boehner

    President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner wait to unveil a statue of Rosa Parks during an unveiling in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill February 27, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

  • Barack Obama, John Boehner

    President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio applaud at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Harry Reid, Barack Obama, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi

    Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid, President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi look at a statue of Rosa Parks during an unveiling ceremony in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill February 27, 2013 in Washington, DC.

  • Harry Reid, Barack Obama, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi

    President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama speaks at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, left, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi

    President Barack Obama, along with, from left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stand for the trooping of the colors at the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Barack Obama, Jessica Jackson

    President Barack Obama hugs Jessica Jackson, the daughter of former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson, after the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks, rear, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama speaks in the Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, during the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks.



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  • February 1

    In this May 3, 1963 file photo,a 17-year-old civil rights demonstrator, defying an anti-parade ordinance of Birmingham, Ala., is attacked by a police dog. Bill Hudson, an Associated Press photographer whose searing images of the civil rights era documented police brutality and galvanized the public, died Thursday, June 24, 2010 in Jacksonville, Fla. He was 77.

  • February 2

    1968 Olympic Games, Mexico City, Mexico, Men's 200 Metres Final, USA gold medalist Tommie Smith (C) and bronze medalist John Carlos give the black power salute as an anti-racial protest as they stand on the podium with Australian silver medallist Peter Norman

  • February 3

    The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X waiting for an unspecified press conference on March 26, 1964.

  • February 4

    Teenager Elizabeth Eckford (L) w. snarling white parents following as she is turned away fr. entering Central High School by Arkansas National Guardsmen under orders fr. Gov. Orval Faubus.

  • February 5

    Left to right: George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James M. Nabrit following Supreme Court decision declaring segregation unconstitutional

  • February 6

    Rosa Parks, right, is kissed by Coretta Scott King, as she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-violent Peace Prize in Atlanta, Jan. 14, 1980. Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus nearly 25 years ago, is the first woman to win the award. (AP Photo)

  • February 7

    18th November 1968: Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900 - 2002) goes backstage to meet the Supremes, Engelbert Humperdinck, Frankie Howerd and Petula Clark after a Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium. The show is in aid of the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund. (Photo by Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

  • February 8

    US pop star and entertainer Michael Jackson performs with Sammy Davis Junior August 14, 1988 in Monaco. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

  • February 9

    Betty Shabazz at her husband, Malcolm X's funeral in Hartsdale, New York in 1965.

  • February 10

    In this May 25, 1965, file photo, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw in Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/John Rooney, File)

  • February 11

    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27: Whitney Houston sings the National Anthem before a game with the New York Giants taking on the Buffalo Bills prior to Super Bowl XXV at Tampa Stadium on January 27, 1991 in Tampa, Florida. The Giants won 20-19. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

  • February 12

    In this January 1, 1945 photo, Lena Horne visits with the Tuskegee Airmen.

  • February 13

    In this March 1, 1964, photo, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, right, is shown with black muslim leader Malcolm X outside the Trans-Lux Newsreel Theater in New York, after viewing the screening of a film about Ali's title fight with Sonny Liston. (AP Photo/File)

  • February 14

    Georgia native son, singer Ray Charles, rocks to the ovation he received from a joint session of the Georgia Legislature in Atlanta, March 7, 1979. The Assembly made his version of the song "Georgia On My Mind" the official state song after he sang it to the session. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly)

  • February 15

    John H. Johnson, publisher of Jet and Ebony magazines, left, and actor Bill Cosby, center, join the Rev. Jesse Jackson at a benefit reception for Operation PUSH, in Chicago, Ill., on April 1, 1982. (AP Photo)

  • February 16

    American singer Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009) is granted a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles, 20th November 1984.

  • February 17

    Day of Pilgrimage protest begins on December 5, 1955, with black Montgomery citizens walking to work, part of their boycott of buses in the wake of the Rosa Parks incident. (Photo by Grey Villet//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • February 18

    In this Aug. 1922 file photo, Marcus Garvey is shown in a military uniform as the "Provisional President of Africa" during a parade on the opening day of the annual Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York City. A century ago, Garvey helped spark movements from African nationalist independence to American civil rights to self-sufficiency in black commerce. Jamaican students in every grade from kindergarten through high school have began studying the teachings of the 1920-era black nationalist leader in a new mandatory civics program in schools across this predominantly black country of 2.8 million people. (AP Photo/File)

  • February 19

    Los Angeles Lakers' Wilt Chamberlain, left, stands beside a backboard and hoop trophy that was presented to him after he became the all-time leading rebounder in NBA history, in Los Angeles, Jan. 31, 1972. (AP Photo)

  • February 20

    Broadway was a snowstorm canyon as proud Manhattanites feted returned U.S. Olympic stars with a fleecy ticker tape parade in New York on Sept. 3, 1936. The fellow with the broad grin in the foreground is Jesse Owens, who won three gold medals and helped other athletes win another for the U.S. (AP Photo)

  • February 21

    Black Nationalist ldr. Malcolm X at podium during rally w. others in bkgrd. Malcolm X was later assassinated on February 21, 1965, by members of the Nation of Islam.

  • February 22

    At the funeral for slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, his wife, Myrlie Evers (second right), comforts their son, Darryl Kenyatta Evers, while daughter Reena Denise Evers (center, in white dress) wipes her own tears, Jackson, Mississippi, June 15, 1963.

  • February 23

    1958: A Caucasian policeman speaks with African-American protesters during a sit-in at Brown's Basement Luncheonette, Oklahoma.

  • February 24

    American actress Hattie McDaniel (1895 - 1952) with her Academy Award of Merit for Outstanding Achievement, circa 1945. McDaniel won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in 'Gone With The Wind', making her the first African-American to win an Academy Award.

  • February 25

    The First Colored Senator and Representatives, in the 41st and 42nd Congress of the US. Top standing left to right: Robert C. De Large, M.C. of S. Carolina; and Jefferson H. Long, M.C. of Georgia. Seated, left to right: U.S. Senator H.R. Revels of Mississippi; Benj. S. Turner, M.C. of Alabama; Josiah T. Walls, M.C. of Florida; Joseph H. Rainy, M.C. of S. Carolina; and R. Brown Elliot, M.C. of S. Carolina. Lithograph by Currier and Ives, 1872.

  • February 26

    Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton (1942 - 1989) (center) smiles as he raises his fist from a podium at the Revolutionary People's Party Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early September 1970.

  • February 27

    Attendees at the Million Man March raise their hands in fists and peace/victory signs October 16, 1995 in Washington, DC. The purpose of the march was to galvanize men to respect themselves and others spiritually, morally, mentally, socially, politically and economically.

  • February 28

    Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (C, L) and his wife Winnie raise fists upon Mandela's release from Victor Verster prison on February 11, 1990 in Paarl. AFP PHOTO ALEXANDER JOE