Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was remembered Monday as a courageous woman whose defiance in the face of segregation helped inspire the architects of the civil rights movement and set an example for generations to follow.
An overflow crowd of mourners joined officials in Washington to pay tribute to the woman whose refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus helped galvanize the modern civil rights movement.
“We are here not because Rosa Parks died but because she lived graciously, effectively and purposely, touching the lives of millions,” said Bishop Adam Jefferson Richardson of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Parks, who died last Monday at 92, was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, an incident that inspired King and helped touch off the civil rights movement.
Richardson called Parks a “woman of quiet strength” who was “noble without pretense, regal in her simplicity, courageous without being bombastic.”
Delegate 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.”
Oprah Winfrey among speakers
Parks’ life was celebrated at the church, where several hundred people were listening to tributes by Oprah Winfrey, NAACP chairman Julian Bond, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., for whom Parks worked in his Detroit congressional office for more than two decades.
In attendance was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Labor Secretary Elaine Chao; Georgia Rep. John Lewis; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy; and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.
A painting of Parks rested above her mahogany coffin at the center of the altar, which was lined with flower arrangements. A large wooden crucifix loomed over the choir, which led the crowd in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Earlier, more than 30,000 people filed silently by her casket in the Capitol Rotunda in hushed reverence, beginning Sunday night and continuing until well past sunrise Monday.
Frist accompanied new Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito and his family to the Rotunda, where they paused in silent remembrance. Several senators joined the procession.
Elderly women carrying purses, young couples holding hands and small children in the arms of their parents reverently proceeded around the raised wooden casket.
Many were overcome by emotion. Monica Grady, 47, of Greenbelt, Md., was moved to tears, she said, that Parks was “so brave at the time without really knowing the consequences” of her actions.
First woman to lie in Rotunda
Parks, a former seamstress, became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda, sharing the tribute bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and other national leaders. President Bush and congressional leaders gathered for a brief ceremony Sunday night, listening as members of Baltimore’s Morgan State University choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Rep. Conyers said the ceremony and public viewing showed “the legacy of Rosa Parks is more than just a success for the civil rights movement or for African-Americans. It means it’s a national honor.”
Parks also was being remembered Monday at a memorial service at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington and then was to lie in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
At the Capitol ceremony Sunday, Senate chaplain Barry Black said Parks’ courage “ignited a movement that aroused our national conscience” and served as an example of the “power of fateful, small acts.”
Bush, who presented a wreath but did not speak at the ceremony, issued a proclamation ordering the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff over all public buildings on Wednesday, the day of Parks’ funeral and burial in Detroit.