Rosa Parks honored by nation’s leaders in Capitol Rotunda, Montgomery memorial
WASHINGTON – Rosa Parks, the former seamstress whose defiant refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man inspired the civil rights movement, became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on Sunday, sharing an honor bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and the nation’s highest leaders.President Bush and congressional leaders placed wreaths by her casket, while members of a university choir greeted her with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., for whom Parks worked in Detroit, said the ceremony 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.”Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid tribute during a service in Montgomery, Ala., earlier Sunday. Rice said she and others who grew up in Alabama during the height of Parks’ activism might not have realized her impact on their lives, “but I can honestly say that without Mrs. Parks, I probably would not be standing here today as secretary of state.”Outside the Capitol, as flags flew at half-staff, thousands of people awaited the chance to pay their respects. Some carried signs that read, “Thank you, Rosa Parks.”The crowd cheered loudly when the motorcade, led by Parks’ hearse and a vintage D.C. Metro bus, arrived. Her casket was carried up the Capitol steps by a military honor guard while Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., prayed with family members and friends.Senate chaplain Barry Black, bowing his head in prayer, said Parks’ courage “ignited a movement that aroused our national conscience” and served as an example of the “power of fateful, small acts.”Bush didn’t speak at the small ceremony, but he issued a proclamation Sunday 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.The president and first lady Laura Bush were joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., temporary House majority leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and other members of Congress.”She was a citizen in the best sense of the word,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. “She caused things to happen in our society that made us a better, more caring, more just society.”Fred Allen, 59, who grew up in segregated Halls, Tenn., brought his 20-year-old son to help him understand the civil rights era.”He has no idea what it was like to grow up in the South, where you had to hold your head down,” Allen said.Parks, 92, died Oct. 24 at her home in Detroit. She had been arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat at the front of a city bus to a white man. Among those who supported her was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system that helped initiate the modern civil rights movement.”She was a gentle giant,” said his son, Martin Luther King III.Sunday morning, before her casket was flown to Washington, Parks was remembered by hundreds of people in a chapel bearing her name at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Montgomery, Ala., where she was once a member.”I was here when Rosa Parks started and I just wanted to be here when she departed,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King.Lowery and the Rev. Jesse Jackson said one way to carry on Parks’ legacy now is to push Congress to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which they said would be in jeopardy when it comes up for review in 2007.The Rev. Al Sharpton, who was a year old at the time of Parks’ arrest, said when he arrived in Montgomery for the memorial, he thought about “how if she had just moved her seat, how history might have changed.”Sharpton, a New York City activist, said national leaders such as Rice and former Secretary of State Colin Powell would have never reached their posts without Parks’ symbolic act. Rice would be struggling in a racially charged Birmingham and “Colin Powell would be sitting in a segregated Army barracks,” Sharpton said.Johnnie Carr, a 94-year-old veteran of the bus boycott, said Parks was her childhood friend, a woman who “gave every ounce of her devotion” to fighting racial inequality.”We have accomplished a lot, we’ve come a long way,” Carr said, “but believe me, we have a long way to go.”—Associated Press writers By Samira Jafari in Montgomery, Ala., and Juan-Carlos Rodriguez in Washington contributed to this report.