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America Pays Respects to Civil Rights Leader Rosa Parks

Ceremonies continue as thousands file through Capitol rotunda

Posted: November 1, 2005 Related item: Rosa Parks lying in honor at Capitol rotunda  

Rosa Parks at ceremony where she received the Congressional Gold Medal on Nov. 28, 1999. (© AP/WWP)

Washington -- In ceremonies from Montgomery, Alabama, to the rotunda of the nation’s Capitol, Americans continue to honor the life of Rosa Parks, whose 1955 refusal to relinquish her seat on a segregated Montgomery bus helped spark the U.S. civil rights movement.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a Montgomery native, spoke at an October 30 memorial ceremony before an overflow crowd at the city’s St. Paul AME [African Methodist Episcopal] church, to which Parks belonged at the time of her arrest. "Without Mrs. Parks," the secretary said, "I would not be standing here today as Secretary of State."

"Not only did she set off a revolution of freedom and a second round of emancipation here in the United States, but she is also revered around the world," Rice added.

The woman whom many have called the mother of the U.S. civil rights movement died of natural causes on October 24 at her home in Detroit. She was 92 years old. (See related article.)

Others speaking at the Montgomery service included the Rev. Joseph Lowry, co-founder with Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who called Parks one of the people God puts "in different parts of history so great things can happen."

Also addressing the gathered mourners was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who declared of Parks: "She was not arrested for sewing. She was a freedom fighter."

WASHINGTON CEREMONIES

Meanwhile, as mourners in Washington queued up for the chance to pay their respects, Parks’ remains were flown to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, recently renamed for the late Supreme Court justice and head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Accompanied by motorcade, a vintage 1957 bus drove Parks across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, named for the famed slavery abolitionist leader, to the U.S. Capitol. There, eight military pallbearers carried her casket inside to lie in honor as the Morgan State University choir sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, favored by the Union Army during the 1861-1865 Civil War that resulted in the emancipation of African-American slaves.

Parks is the first woman and the second African-American to be honored by lying in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building. President Bush ordered all United States flags on public and military facilities to be flown at half-staff on the day of Parks’ interment. (See related article.)

President Bush, first lady Laura Bush and members of Congress laid wreaths at Parks' casket during a short ceremony featuring remarks by the chaplains of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Retired Rear Admiral Barry C. Black, the first African-American named chaplain of the U.S. Senate, said that Parks ignited a movement that “aroused our national conscience" and demonstrated the "power of fateful, small acts."

"By sitting down, this mother of the civil rights movement enabled millions to stand up in a better world," said Black.

The senior Republican and Democratic members of the House of Representatives, Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, issued a joint statement: "The Capitol serves as a beacon of American liberty, freedom and democracy, and Rosa Parks served as the mother of the America we grew to be."

Among the other prominent Americans offering tributes were National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Chairman Julian Bond, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Michigan Representative John Conyers Jr., in whose Detroit office Parks worked beginning in 1965.

Capitol Police estimated that more than 30,000 Americans filed through the Capitol rotunda and past Parks' casket to pay their respects. A service at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Washington was scheduled for the afternoon of October 31.

Following that service, Parks’ remains will be flown to Detroit for a November 2 funeral and burial.

For additional information, see African-American Rights.

Michael Jay Friedman
Washington File Staff Writer


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