Hers was such a quiet and simple act of resistance. But it ultimately gave birth to America’s civil rights movement more than half a century ago.
On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a diminutive 42-year-old black seamstress and activist, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala. | » UPDATED STORY: Rosa Parks statue unveiled
The incident sparked a 381-day citywide bus boycott and brought the nation’s fledgling civil rights movement to a boiling point, ushering in years of protests and demonstrations that finally led to the fall of the country’s segregation laws.
Parks died in 2005 at the age of 92, becoming the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol rotunda. She would have turned 100 years old on Feb. 4.
On Wednesday, the civil rights icon will be in the spotlight again when a full-size bronze statue of her – created by San Pedro sculptor Eugene Daub in his studio on 15th Street – will be unveiled in the nation’s Capitol.
President Barack Obama – the country’s first black president – and congressional leaders will be on hand for the tribute to add the first full-size likeness of a black woman to the National Statuary Hall, joining a collection that also features busts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sojourner Truth.
“The significance of having her (statue) and what she stands for (in the Capitol) can’t be overstated,” said U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Every visitor to the Capitol, every school child who sees her statue will hopefully learn the story of her courage and her strength.”
Daub, who also is in Washington, D.C., for the ceremony, and his partner, Rob Firmin, were selected for the commissioned statue in 2009, beating out more then 150 other artists competing for the National Endowment of the Arts project.
Their names were embargoed until just recently and no images of the statue have been publicly unveiled pending the Wednesday morning unveiling.
It’s the first statue commissioned for the National Statuary Hall since 1873. Most of the others have been gifts from the various states.
Daub served as the master artist and sculptor with Firmin, whose studio is in Kensington in Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, as project manager and primary historic researcher.
“We pretty much co-designed it,” Daub said.
Daub, who was 12 and growing up in Philadelphia when Parks made her stand, said he knew little about segregation until he went into the Army and was in a Georgia boot camp.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen segregated restaurants and restrooms,” he said. “I had no idea.”
The design of the 9-foot-tall statue on a black granite pedestal has remained a secret since work began in 2009. The sculpture, which weighs 2,700 pounds, was authorized by Congress in 2005, shortly after Parks’ death.
A 24-inch maquette, or scale model, was submitted for the contest. In developing the design, Daub said his aim was to convey Parks’ quiet determination.
“She’s in a sitting position, which is probably not a big surprise to anybody,” Daub said. “But Rosa Parks wasn’t just sitting. This was historic sitting, this was heroic sitting.
“So my job as a sculptor was to make a sitting position look heroic.”
Parks is not depicted as sitting on a bus seat or a chair, but rather as “emerging as if sitting on a rock,” Daub said.
“So the gesture is not so much about that one day on that one bus seat, but it’s about her resistance and defiance – it’s about her taking a stand by sitting,” Daub said.
Hahn, who noted she met Parks about 20 years ago, said, “She was a small woman, she was a gentle woman, she was unassuming. I’m hoping it will really show her courage, her peaceful resistance and her determination to change the country.”
Daub has created life-size historic figures before – among them Lewis and Clark, Abraham Lincoln, Phineas Banning and Harry Bridges.
But the Parks statue is something of a coup.
“I don’t think I really knew how important this would be,” Daub said, adding that the build-up to the ceremony has been overwhelming.
He did the work in his San Pedro studio and the statue was cast at a foundry in Hawthorne, then shipped back East, where it has been waiting in a warehouse.
Daub and Firmin also learned on Tuesday they will get a private audience with the president for 10 minutes as part of the festivities.
“That blew me away,” Daub said in a telephone interview from his hotel room in Washington, D.C. “What am I going to say to the leader of the free world? I’ve been thinking and worrying about that ever since.”