Rosa Parks Etched Into History, And D.C.'s Cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral dedicated a new stone carving of Rosa Parks this week. The statue joins carvings of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador Oscar Romero in the cathedral's Human Rights Porch.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is always a work in progress. Although it's more than a century old, and is being repaired from damage caused by last year's earthquake, it always makes room for new statues and carvings of people who inspire.

REVEREND DR. FRANCIS WADE: May God bless the eyes of all who see the likeness we dedicate this evening.

SIMON: This week, the Reverend Dr. Francis Wade, the current dean of the National Cathedral, led the dedication of a new carving of Rosa Parks, the Montgomery, Alabama seamstress who refused to move to the back of a segregated bus in 1955, and helped set-off the modern civil rights movement. Her likeness now joins statues of Eleanor Roosevelt and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador in an archway dedicated to champions of human rights.

SEAN CALLAHAN: I think there's a certain serenity about it and a dignity about it that works.

SIMON: Sean Callahan is a stone carver at the National Cathedral. Last year, he chiseled a limestone block into a carving of Rosa Parks designed by Chas Fagan, a North Carolina sculptor.

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SIMON: Callahan turns stone into statues of angels, gargoyles and finials in a garage-size workshop on the cathedral's campus, mainly with an air hammer.

CALLAHAN: It's basically a little tiny jackhammer. And basically it's just air-powered. It's got a little piston that goes back and forth, vibrates really fast.

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SIMON: For finer details, he'll resort to a more old-world technique.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

SIMON: A mallet and a chisel.

CALLAHAN: So, you can see it's much slower, but there is a - it's nicer in a sense when you're working by hand but it's more meditative. You get a rhythm going and the sound is nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

CALLAHAN: That's what people like to hear when they think of stone carving.

SIMON: Sean Callahan's carving shows Rosa Parks wearing her signature glasses and pillbox hat; symbols of an era, and the woman who refused to move - but moved history.

CALLAHAN: It has a timeless look about it. It just - she looks like someone that you can respect, and you look up at her, and it does invoke a certain response. You know, here is someone to look up to.

SIMON: The Reverend Wade told the dedication ceremony:

WADE: Her decision to stop participating in what was wrong and do what was right changed the course of history in this land. And it is for that reason that we gather in this place to establish her image forever before us, where we can remember not only this woman but also that simple formula: It is time.

SIMON: The reverend recalled the words of Rosa Parks from a 1992 interview with NPR when she recounted why she refused to give up her seat.

ROSA PARKS: My main reason was that I did not want to be mistreated and did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. And it was just time, and there was an opportunity for me to take the stand that to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner.

SIMON: The cathedral's carving of Rosa Parks faces another carving of Mother Teresa that will be dedicated next year. They may have much to talk about.

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SIMON: This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.

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SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Didn't I say that? I'm Scott Simon.

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