Rosa Parks honored with Congressional Gold Medal
June 15, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hundreds of people gathered in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday as President Clinton and top lawmakers honored civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks with the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.
"This medal is encouragement for all of us to continue until all have rights," said Parks, 86, during her brief remarks.
Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 5, 1955, triggered a black boycott of the city's bus system that lasted more than a year and eventually led to laws that ended legalized segregation.
The bill to honor Parks with the Congressional Award was sponsored by Rep. Julia Carson (D-Indiana) and Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan). It passed both houses of Congress by wide margins and was signed into law by Clinton.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that American history has moved through and with Rosa Parks. ... This modest woman transformed an act designed to perpetuate the harsh rule of Jim Crow into the spark that ignited a determined and righteous crusade," Abraham said.
The audience of 650 people included House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri), who both made remarks honoring Parks.
Many members of the civil rights community attended, including some of the "Little Rock Nine," the black students at the center of the school desegregation crisis that drew nationwide attention in 1957.
Parks joins a select group in receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award bestowed by the U.S. government.
The first such award was given to Gen. George Washington in 1776.
"In so many ways Rosa Parks brought America home to our founders' dream," Clinton said.
"We must never ever, when this ceremony is over, forget about the power of ordinary people to stand in the fire for the cause of human dignity," he said.
Seven other Congressional Gold Medals have been awarded during the Clinton administration. Recipients include the Rev. Billy Graham in 1996 and Frank Sinatra and Mother Teresa in 1997.
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