Parks remembered for courage, strength


Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
WASHINGTON - Linking hands and singing "We Shall Overcome," old friends and Washington's establishment remembered Rosa Parks on Monday as a quiet, gentle woman whose courage in the face of segregation helped inspire generations.
An overflow church crowd paid tribute to the woman whose refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus 50 years ago helped galvanize the modern civil rights movement. The two-day farewell and "homegoing" in Washington also attracted tens of thousands who stood for hours for a glimpse of Parks' mahogany coffin in the Capitol Rotunda.
In a three-hour memorial service at historic Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, Parks was celebrated by political, religious and civil rights leaders and other luminaries who spoke of the example she set with a simple act of defiance.
"I would not be standing here today, nor standing where I stand every day, had she not chosen to sit down," said talk show host Oprah Winfrey. "I know that."
Winfrey, who was born in Mississippi during segregation, said Parks' stand "changed the trajectory of my life and the lives of so many other people in the world."
Bishop Adam Jefferson Richardson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church called Parks a "woman of quiet strength" who was "noble without pretense, regal in her simplicity, courageous without being bombastic."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said Parks' refusal to give up her seat "was the functional equivalent of a nonviolent shot heard round the world."
"She saw the inherent evil in segregation and she had the courage to fight it in its common place, a seat on a bus," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
At the end of the service, the audience joined hands and sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome." Mourners reached into the aisle to touch her casket as it was wheeled out of the church.
Afterward, Parks' casket was flown to Detroit, where a viewing would begin late Monday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Former President Clinton and singer Aretha Franklin were scheduled to attend her funeral Wednesday.
Parks, who died last Monday at 92, was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man on demand, as required by law at the time. The incident inspired a boycott that vaulted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to prominence and sparked the civil rights movement that brought an end to formal segregation.
Friends recalled that Parks was an active NAACP member before her arrest and had grown weary of laws and rules that separated the races in buses, restaurants and public accommodations throughout the South.
Dorothy Height, president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women, remembered that Parks said at the time that she was "sick and tired of giving in to a system so unjust."
"She said it in her gentle manner but with the same vigor of the prophets of old as they struck injustice," Height said.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said her legacy was so great that when former South African President Nelson Mandela visited Detroit in 1990, he led the crowd in a chant of Parks' name.
The moment "made us realize that this is an international phenomenon that we celebrate. Rosa Parks is worldwide," said Conyers, who hired Parks to work in his Detroit congressional office.
Her memorial brought together leaders of both parties, from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
The choir led the crowd in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Earlier, tens of thousands of people filed silently by Parks' casket in the Capitol Rotunda in hushed reverence from Sunday night and through midmorning Monday. Parks became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda, sharing the tribute given to Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and other national leaders.
Capitol Police estimated the crowd at more than 30,000 but some participants said it was far bigger.
Among those paying respects was Judge Samuel Alito and his family, the day President Bush nominated him to the Supreme Court.
Elderly men and women old enough to remember Jim Crow laws brought their children and grandchildren to say goodbye.
"I rejoice that my country recognizes that this woman changed the course of American history, that this woman became a cure for the cancer of segregation," said the Rev. Vernon Shannon, 68, pastor of John Wesley African-Methodist-Episcopal Zion in Washington.
Bush, who presented a wreath Sunday night at a Capitol Hill ceremony, ordered the U.S. flag flown at half-staff over all public buildings Wednesday, the day of Parks' funeral in Detroit.
--- Associated Press writers Jeffrey McMurray and Juan-Carlos Rodriguez contributed to this report.

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