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Story highlights

Hillary Clinton remembered Parks as a "lovely, dignified, determined person"

"Our work isn't finished," she said

(CNN) —  

Standing at the same pulpit the catapulted Martin Luther King Jr. to national prominence, Hillary Clinton told an audience marking the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott that while civil rights have come a long way since the day Rosa Parks refused to stand up, the fight is far from finished.

Clinton remembered Parks as a “lovely, dignified, determined person” whose decision not to stand up when asked by a white bus driver on December 1, 1955, was both “ordinary” and “extraordinary.”

But she challenged the assembled African-American dignitaries and lawyers to remain focused on the civil rights struggle.

“Our work isn’t finished,” she said. “We do have to pay it forward. There are still injustice perpetrated every day across our country, sometimes in spite of the law, sometimes, unfortunately, in keeping with it.”

Citing such issues as mass incarceration, voting rights and economic empowerment, Clinton said, “There are still too many ways in which our laws and our policies fall short of our ideals. So even as we celebrate all that our country has achieved in the past 60 years, we must look to the future and the work that is left to do.”

Clinton stood at the pulpit of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church 60 years to the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a crowded city bus, a peaceful protest for which she was arrested and jailed.

From that day on, the small red bricked, A-frame church was the heart of the Montgomery bus boycott, serving as a meeting place and organization hub for the movement. The year-long protest served as a model for other demonstrations and helped launched King’s career, who served as lead pastor from 1954 to 1960.

The event – which was organized by the National Bar Association President Benjamin Crump – was meant to honor the lawyers who worked during the bus boycott, particularly Fred Gray, Parks’ lawyer. But even while it was meant to honor history, every speaker echoed Clinton in saying the future is far from certain.

“Let us not assume for one moment that our work is done,” said Gray. “The struggle for equal justice continues.”

Rep. Terri Sewell, the only Democrat in Alabama’s congressional delegation, said “old battles have become new again.”

“There is a renewed assault. And now more than ever, we need brave souls,” she said.

The event was not a campaign stop for Clinton, but the fact she was running for president was in the thoughts of everyone in the room. Gray introduced Clinton as “the next president of the United States” and Crump told “sister Clinton” about how he prays that his three-year old daughter will be able to see her inaugurated in 2017.

Clinton didn’t directly mention her presidential aspirations, but her message tracked closely with policies she has rolled out in the past, like ending “the era of mass incarceration in America,” addressing gun violence, and fighting for voting rights.

“Yes, we must strengthen that most fundamental citizenship right, the right to vote,” Clinton said. “I thought we had solved that problem, thanks to many of the lawyers we are honoring today, but unfortunately there is mischief afoot and some people are just determined to do what they can to keep other Americans from voting.”

Clinton and the attendees closed the event by standing arm-in-arm and singing “We Shall Overcome,” a protest song that became the anthem of the civil rights movement.