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More ‘Rosa Parks moments’ needed

Thousands of people gathered in Detroit on Wednesday to celebrate the life of Rosa Parks. NBC News’ Dawn Fratangelo reports on the mood of the crowd and the themes echoed by many of the speakers at Parks funeral service — that as a nation, we need more "Rosa Parks moments."
/ Source: NBC News

Thousands of people gathered in Detroit on Wednesday to celebrate the life of Rosa Parks, the 92-year-old civil rights pioneer who died in her adopted city on Oct. 24.

NBC News’ Dawn Fratangelo reports on the mood of the crowd in Detroit and themes echoed by many of the speakers at Parks’ packed funeral service — that collectively, as a nation, we need more "Rosa Parks moments."

What is the scene like in Detroit outside of Rosa Parks’ funeral service?
Thousands of people are inside the church from dignitaries — members of Congress, former President Bill Clinton, Rev. Jesse Jackson — to regular folks from Detroit and people who have traveled from around the country to pay their respects to Rosa Parks.

Virtually no modern history of the civil rights movement fails to mention Rosa Parks. The crowd of people at her funeral service really is a testament to what she’s meant to the civil rights movement and what she still means today.

What is the mood there in Detroit among the people who are there to honor her?
People were lining the streets last night and it was very chilly — about 40 degrees. People were already in line early this morning when I arrived at about 6 a.m. because the church only holds about 4,000 people. 

Rosa Parks moved to this city in 1957 from Montgomery, Ala. After she made that courageous move to not give up her seat on the bus and helped lead the boycott that inspired the civil rights movement, she was threatened. She couldn’t find work in Montgomery, and she and her husband moved to Detroit. So, this is very much her adopted city.

** FILE ** A Montgomery (Ala.) Sheriff's Department booking photo of Rosa Parks taken Feb 22, 1956, is shown Friday, July 23, 2004, in Montgomery, Ala. Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked the modern civil rights movement, died Monday Oct. 24, 2005. She was 92. (AP Photo/Montgomery County (Ala.) Sheriff's office)Montgomery County (Ala.) Sheriff / MONTGOMERY SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT

The people of this city realized that she was an icon. But, they also respected that she was a humble woman, of small stature, who lived a quiet life. They also appreciate that she lived like they did and realized how hard it is to live in Detroit.

Life in Detroit has always revolved around the automotive industry. Depending on how the cycle of the automotive industry is doing, at times, people have fallen on very hard times here.

But, people here have always looked to Parks as a person who really was a blue-collar worker all her life. So, she was like them, and they see a part of themselves in her. And they see a bigger part of what it is she did, and what they can become.

This tiny humble woman inspires everyone in Detroit who is here to pay their respects, from the blue-collar worker, to the man who was our 42nd president.

In terms of the group of people that are there, there is this huge list of speakers, from people who weren’t even on the list of scheduled speakers like Senator Hillary Clinton to Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam. How has that assortment of speakers been received?
The list of speakers has been very interesting. You do have Louis Farrakhan, the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, along with Barack Obama, the up and coming, inspirational African American Senator from Illinois.

That is the interesting thing about how Rosa Parks has brought so many different people together. She believed in non-violence, and she often disagreed with the civil rights movement when it turned at times violent.

But, that you have these people gathered in this one arena to pay tribute to this woman speaks volumes to how one person can make a change.

When you ask about the people who are speaking, interestingly, Barack Obama, was not on the program, Hillary Clinton was not on the program, neither was Sen. John Kerry. Certainly, as politicians they see this as a way in which they can pay tribute, but they clearly realize the importance of this arena as well. It has been interesting to see the number people that were added to the program.

If you have an icon like Rosa Parks, there are bound to be some battles. Leading up to this funeral, there were many different ideas of how they should honor her. Apparently behind the scenes they had a number of differing opinions on how they should do that.

But, when you look at the people gathered in that church, it really does say a lot about the fact that one tiny woman can change the world.

In terms of the future of the civil rights movement, how have people spoken to that?
Interestingly, a lot of the speakers have been talking about how we collectively, as a society, need to have our own Rosa Parks moments.

In an interview that Parks gave when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she was asked if she was happy.

She reply was, “I did the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day. But, I don’t think that there is any such thing as complete happiness because it pains me that there is still a lot of Klan activity and racism. I just haven’t reached that stage yet of complete happiness.”

The speakers have been talking about that. How Rosa Parks is just one person and that while she may have been the match to light the civil rights movement - there is still much more to be done.

Every speaker who has come to the podium so far, has talked about how we, collectively as a society, need to have our Rosa Parks moments.

There haven’t been overt messages or comments about what happened during Hurricane Katrina, but they have alluded to the fact that there are still people who are not included and are not treated with respect or dignity.

So, it’s not lost on anyone who is speaking, or listening, that if there is anything we can do to honor Rosa Parks memory, it really is to not be naïve to think that there isn’t a heck of a lot more to do.