New Statue Honors Helen Keller

October 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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A bronze statue of Helen Keller was unveiled to Congress Wednesday. Kwame Holman reports.

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, a statue of a young Helen Keller comes to the Congress. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman was there.

KWAME HOLMAN: Two young students from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind sang for the leaders of Congress and a large crowd in the Capitol Rotunda this morning.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the statue of Helen Keller.

KWAME HOLMAN: They had gathered for the unveiling of a statue of perhaps Alabama’s most famous daughter, Helen Keller.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader: By dedicating this statue in this place of giants, we show that those whom the world calls imperfect are not only worth our attention. They’re worth our highest honors.

KWAME HOLMAN: The bronze cast depicts the world-famous activist for disability rights as a 7-year-old child, the time when the deaf and blind Keller made the connection between her teacher’s words and the water running from the pump at her family home in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

ANNE BANCROFT, actress, “Annie Sullivan”: W-a-t-e-r, water. It has a name.

KWAME HOLMAN: The scene was made iconic by the 1962 movie “The Miracle Worker.”

PATTY DUKE, actress, “Helen Keller”: Water. Water.

KWAME HOLMAN: Keller went on to become the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree, sat with heads of state, and secured access and opportunities for the disabled. She died in 1968.

Carl Augusto is president of the American Foundation for the Blind.

CARL AUGUSTO, president, American Foundation for the Blind: She embodied the American spirit of limitless possibility by becoming a famous American activist, a prolific writer, a prolific lecturer.

KWAME HOLMAN: The statue will replace that of an Alabama confederate officer and educator as one of the two statues each state is granted in the Capitol. Keller’s will be the ninth of a woman and the only one of a person with disabilities.

Alabama’s congressional delegation was well-represented at the ceremony. Senator Jeff Sessions.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.: I can’t think of a better person for the state to honor and, really, for the nation to honor.

KWAME HOLMAN: Congressman Artur Davis.

REP. ARTUR DAVIS, D-Ala.: So why not offer up a symbol to the United States of America that says, “This is someone who shattered glass ceilings, someone who broke barriers”? That’s what Alabama now offers as a statement of who we are.

KWAME HOLMAN: Speakers said, as the only statue of a child, Keller’s likeness will interest and inspire many of the children who see it in its permanent place inside the Capitol Visitors Center.