DETROIT Since her death, many have described Rosa Parks as a quiet, unassuming woman whose simple symbolic protest in 1955 sparked the modern-day civil rights movement.
Her seven-hour funeral service yesterday in front of thousands and shown live on several local television stations was worthy of most heads of state.
Last night after the service, Mrs. Parks, an American flag over her casket, was taken by horse-drawn carriage and later a vintage hearse to Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit for entombment.
From former President Bill Clinton and wife U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.) to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, to U.S. Appeals Court Judge Damon Keith to legendary singer Aretha Franklin, Mrs. Parks funeral service was an event unto itself.
The service was an impressive display of affection for a woman who was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955.
The throngs of people who did not arrive early enough to pack the 4,000-seat Greater Grace Temple on Detroit s far west side lined up for several blocks, all the way to Telegraph Road. Others crowded the church s front entrance, waiting for a glimpse of Mrs. Parks casket and some of the dignitaries who attended.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who joined a large congressional contingent at the funeral, said Rosa Parks was part of American history. Miss Kaptur said she attended the service because she wanted to show her gratitude to Mrs. Parks for impacting the lives of all citizens.
She is the Sojourner Truth of the 20th century, said Miss Kaptur in the hallway of the church during the service. This is a part of living history, and it s something I will always remember.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson called Mrs. Parks a freedom fighter. He said her life as a seamstress was unimportant compared to what she stood for and what she believed.
She didn t get arrested for sewing, he said. She was defiant. She was a freedom fighter.
The Rev. Philip Robert Cousin said during the eulogy that Mrs. Parks wanted to serve more than be out front in the civil rights movement but became one of its standard bearers.
She was the rock of the civil rights movement s foundation, Mr. Cousin said. She was a stepping stone because others were able to step up to higher ground. Now, we must stand on that rock to reach higher ground. She was also a stumbling block to everything that was evil.
Mr. Clinton said that since 1955, Mrs. Parks had maintained her dignity and her quiet determination.
Rosa Parks, as we saw again today, was small in stature with delicate features, Mr. Clinton said. But the passing years did nothing to dim the light that danced in her eyes, the kindness and strength you saw in her smile, or the dignity of her voice. To the end, she radiated that kind of grace and serenity that God especially gives to those who stand on the line for freedom and even touched the hardest of hearts.
Mrs. Clinton, who spoke with members of Congress later in the funeral, said the best way to honor Mrs. Parks was by small acts on behalf of others rather than words.
Former Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) also were among the political speakers.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was sparked by Mrs. Parks act, gave rise to the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights leader, spoke on behalf of her ill mother, Coretta Scott King. Ms. King said Mrs. Parks sparked a prairie fire that inspired the civil rights movement.
Though we mourn the loss of this singular champion of racial justice, we celebrate her home-going as a woman of unwavering faith and serving God and humanity with unconditional love and devotion, Ms. King said.
She was a great heroine of the Montgomery movement, but she dedicated her entire life to the eradication of racial and social injustice, with a particular focus on young people through the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, she said.
Ms. Granholm called Mrs. Parks a war hero for civil rights who fought against bigotry and racism with the strength of her heart and purpose.
She was an improbable warrior, leading an unlikely army of waitresses, street sweepers, shopkeepers, auto mechanics, and this army was protected by the piercing weapons of love and nonviolence more powerful than any army before and since, she said.
At the end of her remarks, she raised her hand to her brow and rendered a salute to Mrs. Parks.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said that work is under way to name a federal building in Detroit in Mrs. Parks honor. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) followed later by saying she will work to get a statue dedicated to Mrs. Parks in the U.S. Capitol Building.
Bruce Gordon, president of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, of the National Urban League, also shared their thoughts.
Antonio Villaraigosa, recently elected as the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles, said he was compelled to pay tribute to Mrs. Parks because the progress of blacks and other minorities was helped by her courage.
I stand on the shoulders of Tom Bradley and Rosa Parks, he said. I m here because there was a Civil Rights Act. I m here because there was a Voter Rights Act. If it wasn t for Rosa Parks, I wouldn t be here today and neither would you.
Numerous speakers focused on Mrs. Parks fight for civil rights, urging attendees to defeat the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a measure that will be on the Michigan ballot in 2006 attempting to strike down affirmative action in state institutions.
Others urged that the federal Voters Rights Act be made permanent.
Some traveled great distances with only a mere hope of seeing the ceremony.
Delores Davis, 69, of Cleveland, said she took a Greyhound bus to Detroit to attend the funeral.
This was something I just had to be at, said Ms. Davis, who has relatives in Toledo. I think she helped all of us. We are all her children. This is the very least we could do for her.
Before the service, people waiting in line to enter the church sang We Shall Overcome, the anthem of the civil rights movement, as they slowly moved toward the entrances.
It was the same song the choir inside sang for the service s opening processional.
Contact Clyde Hughes at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6095.