The Celestial Icons: Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa

New Sculptures for
Washington National Cathedral

Nélida Nassar  06.01.2012

With its Gothic Revival style, the Washington National Cathedral is the second largest cathedral in the United States and one of the six largest in the world.  It is also well rooted in the city’s daily life. Thus, its architecture lodges the Human Rights’ portal dedicated to those who have worked to establish equality and justice for all mankind.

Starting with the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose statue adorns the top of the portal, she was a passionate feminist, and an active opponent of racism within the American Civil Rights Movement.  She rubs shoulders with the statues of Archbishop Oscar Romero, defender of human rights, in particular the peasants’ rights of his diocese in San Salvador, murdered while celebrating Mass
and Bishop of Washington John T. Walker, a social activist and friend of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Today, two other big names from the humanitarian world and field had the honor to join them on this portal: Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks.  Their respective sculptural heads, carved in stone, were placed on two columns. Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) was a seamstress who became emblematic in the struggle against racial segregation in the United States.  Her resistance earned her from the US Congress the nickname Mother of the civil rights movement.  In 1955, she made headlines by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus.

Arrested by the police, she was fined $15 and appealed that judgment.  Meanwhile, an unknown, 26 years young, African-American pastor, Martin Luther King, with the assistance of another civil rights advocate, Ralph Abernathyune, started a campaign of protest and boycott against the busing company that lasted 381 days.  Following these demonstrations, on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court revoked the segregation laws on buses, declaring them unconstitutional.

With the end of the segregation laws, Parks had then said: “At the time of my arrest, I did not measure the consequences to come.  For me it was a day like any other, with the only difference that it was marked by many people joining me. I had no idea that my little action, that of not ceding my place on that bus in Montgomery, would help put an end to segregation laws in the South.”  She became an icon and died October 24, 2005 at the age of 92, just one month before the fiftieth anniversary of her courageous act.  She certainly deserves the honors of the country, and today those of the Washington National Cathedral; where her audacity and bravery were welcomed among the saints and angels in this heavenly place.

Rosa Parks’s niece, Rhea McCauley, attended the ceremony honoring her aunt.  Ms. Parks’s sculpture, as well as the one representing Mother Teresa, are both carved by Sean Callahan, an artist from North Carolina, following artist Chas Fagan’s drawings.

Originally Published in Berkshire Fine Arts

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