Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Everyday folks drawn to Rosa Parks' casket


Mary Tucker and her grandson, James Miles, 8, both of Detroit, leave the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History after viewing Rosa Parks.


DETROIT - When Sarah Harrison heard about the death of Rosa Parks last week, she scoured the Internet in search of a way to pay homage to the civil rights icon.

Yesterday, Ms. Harrison made the more than one-hour drive from her home in Pemberville in rural Wood County with her 2-year-old son to join tens of thousands of people who viewed Mrs. Parks' open casket at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History.

Ms. Harrison, 32, wasn't born when Mrs. Parks challenged the Jim Crow laws in Montgomery, Ala., 50 years ago by refusing to give her bus seat to a white man. But to Ms. Harrison, she was a hero.

"Rosa Parks set a courageous example for all of us and she managed to change society," Ms. Harrison said. "I wanted to find an opportunity to see her ... and it was well worth the drive."

While many of those who stood in long lines yesterday waiting to see Mrs. Parks lie in state were African-Americans, they were joined by a multiracial, multicultural mix of young and old, dignitaries, and everyday folks like Ms. Harrison, who is white. Some in the crowd hugged each other, laughed with one another, and occasionally even sang spirituals as they waited in the chilly breeze to enter the museum.

The line extended from a door off the parking lot in the rear of the museum, snaked back and forth toward the corner and then continued out of sight down a nearby street. While movement was brisk, it nonetheless took up to several hours at times for those waiting to pay their respects.

When they exited the museum out of the front door onto Warren Avenue, they viewed the bus on which Mrs. Parks was arrested in 1955. The vehicle was on loan from the Henry Ford Museum in nearby Dearborn, Mich.

After emerging outside, Brett Collins, 40, of Toledo, said the scene inside the museum was fitting of Mrs. Parks' dedication to peace and harmony.

"This is truly a family atmosphere here," Mr. Collins said. "When you walked in the museum and you saw these big pictures of her, you were just in awe. I can't remember another feeling like this. It was very humbling."

Concepcion Eason, 57, said she took off work in Toledo to stand shoulder to shoulder with others who had come to honor Mrs. Parks. A longtime activist for Latino affairs in the Toledo area, Ms. Eason said Mrs. Parks is a symbol for the people who quietly make a difference in the lives of others.

"There are a lot of people who are trying to make a difference every day and are not looking for recognition," Ms. Eason said. "She made her statement with no expectations. I hope it inspires other people to take action and they can do it quietly."

Dorothy Stephens, 62, of Detroit, said she knew Mrs. Parks not as a meek and mild-mannered seamstress who was arrested in Montgomery, but as a determined civil rights activist who was tired of the way African-Americans were treated. Ms. Stephens said she was a youngster living near Tuskegee, Ala., and Mrs. Parks and her husband lived next to her aunt in Montgomery.

"You know, she was kind of spunky," said Ms. Stephens with a whisper. "You had to be if you were going to do something like that. You put your life in danger. It was a terrible time. People lost their jobs and even worse if they tried to defy them."

Mrs. Parks did lose her job as a seamstress, and she and her husband, Raymond, eventually had to leave Montgomery for Detroit, where they lived out their lives.

Simmie Blakney, 77, a retired University of Toledo professor, and his wife, Era, said Mrs. Parks was one of the most enduring figures of the civil rights movement. Mrs. Parks never tried to gain publicity for herself, they noted, but spent her life trying to help others.

"I hope she will inspire young people to start looking back at our history," Mrs. Blakney said. "They need to know how we got here instead of thinking things have always been like this."

The sun struggled to break though the clouds yesterday morning when 61-year-old Ronald Jones and 32-year-old Caroline Postma, a black and a white city councilor, respectively, of Windsor, Ont., were escorted by several of the city's firefighters through the viewing area.

"Mrs. Parks just didn't have an impact on the United States, but Canada as well," Mr. Jones said afterwards. "If it wasn't for Rosa Parks, there wouldn't have been a Martin Luther King, Jr. It's important that we pass these stories to our children."

As an Arab-American, 18-year-old Nuha Alsaidy said she can understand the courage it took for Mrs. Parks to protest the way she was being treated. The student from Detroit said she left the museum inspired by Mrs. Parks and her actions.

"I've watched programs and read so much about her that I feel like I know her," Miss Alsaidy said. "She opened doors not only for African-Americans, but for people like myself."

Ida M. Sims, 55, of Detroit, and Linda A. Atty, 22, who recently moved to the

city from Farmington Hills, walked out of the museum together and hugged after viewing Mrs. Parks. Ms. Sims, an African-American, and Miss Atty, who is white, didn't know each other before entering the line together, but said they quickly found a common bond in their admiration of Mrs. Parks.

"She stood for equality, peace, and justice for all, and I love her so much," Ms. Sims said of Mrs. Parks, wiping away tears from her eyes. "I think [Mrs. Parks] sets a great example for all of us," Ms. Atty added.

Former President Bill Clinton, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., are some of the VIPs expected at Mrs. Parks' funeral service today at 11 a.m. at Greater Grace Temple, 23500 West Seven Mile Rd., Detroit.

The service at the church, which can seat about 4,000 people, is expected to last three hours. Public seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 9 a.m. today. A private burial will follow the service at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Three Detroit television stations - WDIV-TV (Channel 4), WXYT-TV (Channel 7), and WJBK-TV (Channel 2) - will televise the funeral.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:


or 419-724-6095.

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