WASHINGTON -- President Obama paid tribute to civil rights icon Rosa Parks on Wednesday, comparing the Jim Crow-era tolerance of segregation to the acceptance of inequality that persists into the present day.
People often live their lives "as if in a fog," Obama said, "accepting injustice, rationalizing inequity, tolerating the intolerable."
"We make excuses for inaction," he said. "We say to ourselves, 'That’s not my responsibility. There is nothing I can do.'"
Obama spoke at the unveiling of a Parks statue, the first full-length statue of a black woman in the Capitol.
The remarks came a day before an important filing deadline in a Supreme Court case dealing with same-sex marriage. Obama has compared the campaign by gays to win equal rights to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. He didn’t explicitly mention gay rights on Wednesday, nor give a hint about whether his administration will file a brief supporting the right of gays and lesbians to marry.
The president supports that right but has said in the past that the decisions belong at the state level.
Instead, standing in the Capitol's Statuary Hall, Obama praised the acts of "anonymous courage" that spark movements and result in change.
In 1955, Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress and civil rights activist, broke the law by refusing to yield her seat in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., to a white passenger. Her arrest inspired a more than yearlong boycott of the bus system and was a significant moment in the civil rights movement.
Obama said Parks, who died in 2005, is a reminder of change that does not come through the "exploits of the famous and the powerful."
But he also spoke of what "leadership requires" and said the statute calls on Americans to carry forward the principles Parks stood for.
"Rosa Parks tell us there’s always something we can do," Obama said.