US bids farewell to civil rights icon Rosa Parks
By Tom Brown
DETROIT (Reuters) – Thousands of mourners, some of whom
waited for hours in the cold, paid a final tribute on Wednesday
to Rosa Parks, who galvanized the U.S. civil rights movement by
refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in the
segregated South a half a century ago.
Former President Bill Clinton said her simple act of civil
disobedience in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama “ignited the most
significant social movement in American history.”
The casket carrying Parks, who died on October 24 at age
92, was placed in a horse-drawn hearse for a procession to a
Detroit cemetery after a seven-hour church service. Entombment
in a mausoleum well after sunset was private.
Clinton recounted how he remembered Parks’ historic act
when he was a nine-year-old boy riding a segregated bus to
school every day in Arkansas.
The next day, he said, he and two friends decided to pay
tribute to Parks by sitting in the back of their bus.
“She did help to set us all free,” he said.
After her arrest, Parks was convicted of breaking the law
and fined $10, along with $4 in court costs. That same day,
black residents began a boycott of the bus system that lasted
for 381 days, led by a then-unknown Rev. Martin Luther King.
Legal challenges led to a Supreme Court decision that
forced Montgomery to desegregate its bus system and ultimately
helped put an end to laws separating blacks and whites at
public facilities across the South.
She left Montgomery and moved to Detroit not long after her
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of the last to speak at the end
of the joyous service, said the police who arrested Parks “had
guns, she had a breast full of righteousness. … Sister Rosa
you are our eagle bird of hope. … You allowed the rebirth of
Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat and the only black
in the U.S. Senate, said Parks “held no public office, she
wasn’t a wealthy woman, didn’t appear in the society pages, she
did not have an advanced degree (but) when the history of this
country is written … it is this small, quiet woman whose name
will be remembered.”
PETITE PARKS A “GENTLE GIANT”
Bishop Charles Ellis, pastor of the Greater Grace Temple
where Wednesday’s funeral was held, called the diminutive Parks
“a gentle giant of a woman.” Her funeral, he said, was a
“national victory celebration. … Because she humbled herself
in life God has highly exalted her in eternity.”
The seat waiting for her in heaven, Ellis said, was
reserved for her 50 years ago in Alabama.
The service was held inside the 4,000-seat church, a $33
million facility opened just a few years ago by members of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church congregation. Aretha
Franklin, the “queen of soul,” offered a moving arrangement of
“The Impossible Dream.”
Some waited for hours in a predawn chill to get into the
church where they were joined by such figures as Sen. John
Kerry, the unsuccessful 2004 Democratic presidential candidate,
Clinton’s wife Hillary, the Democratic senator from New York,
and Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam.
The service, punctuated by Gospel hymns from two choirs
that sent the congregation swaying, followed tributes to Parks
from across the country.
Her body was placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda last
Sunday, the first such honor ever accorded a woman. There was
also a service in Alabama.
The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the civil rights leader,
told the service she came on behalf of her mother, Coretta
Scott King, who recently suffered a stroke.
Parks, she said, “was the catalyst of one of the most
important freedom movements not only in American history but in
world history .. indeed she became the symbol and
personification of our nonviolent struggle for liberation and