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Her act of disobedience, and the masses of protesters who walked for months on end rather than break the boycott, are the reason "that I stand here today," the president said.
"It is because of them that our children grow up in a land more free and more fair, a land truer to its founding creed," Obama said. "And that is why this statue belongs in this hall — to remind us, no matter how humble or lofty our positions, just what it is that leadership requires."
Some at the event echoed Obama's sentiment.
"The struggle goes on. The movement continues. The pursuit is not over. To honor Rosa Parks in the fullest manner each of us must do our part to protect that which has been gained," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.
Dorthula Green, 58, took an early train from New Haven, Conn., to join a line of ticketholders waiting in the Rotunda to see the statue on its debut.
"When I heard that this was happening, I said, 'I gotta be here,'" Green said. "I grew up in South Carolina. I knew the history and the kinds of things she went through."