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Parks Statue Proposed for Statuary Hall

In the wake of Rosa Parks’ death last week, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) has introduced legislation to add a statue of the late civil rights icon to Statuary Hall.

Parks, the soft-spoken black seamstress who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus to a white man, should be placed “among the greats who have helped to make America and the world a better place in which to live,” Jackson said in a statement.

If the bill were approved, Parks, who spent more than 20 years as an aide to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), would become the first black woman to be represented in Statuary Hall, and the sculpture would be the only non-state statue contribution to the famous Capitol corridor.

As of Friday, the bill had already garnered 97 co-sponsors, said Jackson spokesman Frank Watkins. Every member of the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed it, including Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation.

Watkins said the statue was not intended to replace any state’s current statue — each state is allowed to contribute two statues, and last month the collection finally hit the 100 mark — but would be sought as an addition to the Capitol collection, similar to the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. that currently stands in the Rotunda.

Under the bill, the Architect of the Capitol would have two years from the date of enactment to obtain a statue of Parks and place it in Statuary Hall. The legislation also authorizes “such sums as may be necessary to carry out this Act.”

Jackson, pointing to Parks’ role in jump-starting the modern civil rights movement and noting the “few statues of people of color and women in the Capitol,” said in the statement that a Statuary Hall presence would be the “most appropriate way to permanently memorialize” her.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), said in an e-mail that “no decision has yet been made” regarding the bill’s future, but that “the Chairman and the Committee have worked very hard to bring greater diversity to the House’s art collection and … will continue working on that important goal.”

Should the measure be approved, the Joint Committee on the Library would be responsible for deciding “if another statue would have to be moved to accommodate it,” said AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki. She noted that although no decisions have been made, the potential exists for some statues to be relocated to the Capitol Visitor Center once it is completed.

Another House Administration Committee staffer questioned the feasibility of adding statues to an already crowded Statuary Hall, where several of the pieces must be displayed outside the corridor itself.

“It’s my understanding they are actually trying to get statues out of Statuary Hall because it’s too crowded and the floor is caving in,” the aide said. Noting that the legislation was not vetted with the panel before introduction, the staffer added: “We would have advised them not to put that language in” directing a Statuary Hall location. “It probably won’t go anywhere at this point.”

Watkins, Jackson’s spokesman suggested that that the Congressman might be open to other locations.

“The purpose of putting ‘in Statuary Hall’ in there is to: one, indicate where we would like to see it. But two, if that cannot happen, to indicate that we are talking about some place of prominence,” such as the Rotunda, Watkins said. He added that Jackson, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, “holds the purse strings” and that Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) is a co-sponsor.

Jackson is not the only Member seeking to add statues to Statuary Hall.

Earlier this month, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a resolution that would also permit the District of Columbia to contribute two statues.

Parks, who died last Monday, was scheduled to lie in honor in the Rotunda beginning this past Sunday at 6 p.m. Her casket is on view from 7 to 10 a.m. today. It is slated to leave the Rotunda at 10:30 a.m. A memorial service for Parks is also scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Metropolitan AME Church, located at 1518 M St. NW.