Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke at the unveiling of a statue of Civil Rights leader Rosa Parks in National Statuary Hall in the Unites States Capitol. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.
One hundred years after Rosa Parks was born – and more than half a century after she sparked the Civil Rights movement – the United States is still striving to ensure every American is not only created equal by God, but treated equally in this world.
As America shapes its future it struggles with its past – a past in which equality was our principle but not always our practice. Two of the Best Picture nominees at this year’s Academy Awards – “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained” – offered cinematic treatments of the legacy of our nation’s darkest institution. One film presents an unvarnished view of the evils of slavery. The other depicts our difficult journey to end slavery.
It is significant that, 150 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, we are still considering – in film, in photo, in art, in activism – how to eradicate slavery’s unsavory successors, racism and inequality.
In the doorway to my office, there is a photograph of President Barack Obama in the oval office. President Obama is bending over, and a young, African American boy named Jacob is touching the President’s hair. The photograph is famous now, as is the story that goes with it. Jacob had come to visit the White House with his family. Jacob asked if his own hair was the same as President Obama’s hair. The President said to Jacob, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” And Jacob said, “It’s just like mine.”
I’ve shed many tears over that photo. It is a potent reminder that – although our journey is not over – this country has come far in its short history toward righting injustice and living up to its founding principles.
But without the determination and sacrifice of Rosa Parks, this presidency, that photograph and so much of the progress we have made to perfect our union would not have been possible. So today a nation pays enduring tribute to the woman who moved the world when she refused to move from her seat.