Thousands Pay Final
Respects to Rosa Parks
By MARIA NEWMAN,
NYTimes on the Web, November 2, 2005
DETROIT -- Rosa Parks, the
unassuming seamstress whose small act of defiance on a city bus 50 years ago
helped spark the modern civil rights movement, was to be laid to rest today in
Detroit after a lavish funeral service attended by thousands of dignitaries and
Beginning at dawn, people began lining up around the cavernous Greater Grace
Temple, in Mrs. Park's adopted hometown, and hours later the line still wrapped
around two blocks.
"The world knows of Rosa Parks because of a simple single act of dignity and
courage that struck a lethal blow to the foundations of legal bigotry," said
former President Bill Clinton, who spoke early in a nearly six-hour service that
featured rousing words in tributes and songs.
When Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery,
Ala., bus, "in a region where gentlemen are supposed to give up their seats for
ladies," he said, "she was just taking the next step on her own road to
In doing so, Mr. Clinton said, she "ignited the most significant social movement
in modern American history."
Mr. Clinton noted that Mrs. Parks was a petite woman, and said it brought to his
mind Abraham Lincoln's remark upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of
"Uncle Tom's Cabin."
"So this is the little lady who started the great war," Mr. Clinton quoted Mr.
Lincoln as saying.
"This time Rosa's war was fought by Martin Luther King's rules, civil
disobedience, peaceful resistance," Mr. Clinton said. "But a war
nonetheless for one America in which the law of the land means the same thing
The service also featured remarks by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and singing by
Aretha Franklin. In attendance were former President Jimmy Carter, Winnie
Mandela, the ex-wife of South Africa's post-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, and
several senators and members of Congress.
As the crowd of 4,000 held hands and sang out the Lord's Prayer and "We Shall
Overcome," family members filed past the casket before it was closed.
"Mother Parks, take your rest. You have certainly earned it," Bishop
Charles Ellis III of Greater Grace Temple said.
Mrs. Parks died Oct. 24 at the age of 92. She was born in Tuskegee, Ala.,
and attended rural segregated schools until she was 11 years old. It was
not until she was 21 that she earned a high school diploma.
By the time the 1940's and 50's rolled around, Mrs. Parks was one of the legions
of African Americans simmering with frustration about Jim Crow segregation laws
and who had been schooling themselves in ways that they could bring about
Mrs. Parks registered to vote at the age of 33, after two unsuccessful attempts
in which she was told she had failed a literacy test. She was a member of
the N.A.A.C.P. at a time when there had already been attempts to desegregate
Montgomery's buses, where blacks had to give up their seats for whites and sit
in the back.
For several years, Mrs. Parks had taken to entering the bus from the front, even
though drivers insisted blacks enter through the back. On Dec. 1, 1955, on
her way home from her job as a seamstress at a department store, she boarded her
usual Cleveland Avenue bus to go home, through the front, angering a driver who
had already tangled with her in the past about her practice.
When the whites-only section filled, the driver told her she had to vacate her
seat. Mrs. Parks refused, and the police were called. She was
Her defiance led to a yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery led by the Rev. Dr.
King, and a Supreme Court decision against that city's bus segregation that led
to nationwide nonviolent protests against racial segregation.
"Her greatness lay in what everybody could do, but everybody doesn't," Gov.
Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said during the service.
"By your actions you have given us your final marching orders," Ms. Granholm
said in her goodbye to Mrs. Parks. "We are enlisted in this war."
Earlier this week, Mrs. Park's body lay in honor at the Capitol Rotunda in
Washington, the first time such a tribute had been accorded to a woman, and an
estimated 30,000 people filed past her coffin.
Her body was flown to Detroit afer a memorial service on Tuesday at the
Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington.
She will be entombed later today in a mausoleum at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery.