Associated France Press (AFP) 3/11/2005
Final tributes to Rosa Parks, "mother" of US civil rights movement
Former president Bill Clinton and African-American leaders joined thousands of mourners who swayed in their pews, singing "We Shall Overcome" and other gospel standards in a final tribute to Rosa Parks at the funeral of the civil rights icon.
Thousands who were unable to squeeze into the huge church's overflow rooms waited patiently outside for a chance to say goodbye to Parks, known as the "mother" of the US civil rights movement, who died on October 24 aged 92.
Inside the church, soul music legend Aretha Franklin hushed the assembly with her moving rendition of "The Impossible Dream." The extraordinary funeral service stretched on for more than seven hours.
Black activists such as Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam group, and Reverend Jessie Jackson were also among the scores of speakers at the enormous Greater Grace Temple, an African Methodist Episcopal church.
Clinton told the 4,000 mourners inside the church that Parks -- who sparked civil rights protests by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955 -- had "struck a lethal blow to the foundations of legal bigotry."
"Rosa Parks sparked the most significant social movement in US history," the former Democratic president said.
"Let us never forget that in that single act and a lifetime of grace she showed us every day what it meant to be free. She made us see and agree that everyone needs to be free."
A host of politicians and preachers used the pulpit to call for further action on civil rights in America, including Clinton's wife, Senator Hillary Clinton.
"We all need to remember we can have our own Rosa Parks moment every time we stand up for someone who is being mistreated," the New York Democratic senator said. "While we're at it, lets make sure that every vote counts and every vote is counted. This must be a time of change and a call to action."
Notably absent from the massive delegation of politicians was any senior official from the White House.
There has been a nationwide outpouring of tributes to Parks, whose act of defiance on a Montgomery, Alabama bus on December 1, 1955, caused her arrest and a boycott of the bus company led by Martin Luther King Jr., which grew into a national movement and the eventual ending of racial segregation laws.
Following her death, she became the first woman whose body was allowed to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, a tribute usually reserved for presidents and eminent public servants.
Tens of thousands of people, including President George W. Bush, filed past Parks's coffin in the large circular room under the Capitol's dome for the public viewing Sunday and Monday.
Bush had ordered US flags to be flown at half-staff worldwide Wednesday in her honor.
In Detroit, an estimated 20,000 people filed past the coffin in a museum prior to the funeral service.
The list of honorary pallbearers for Wednesday's service included Clinton and another former president, Jimmy Carter, boxer Muhammad Ali, sports legends Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods and entertainment mavens Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey. Only Clinton attended the service.
The church was also filled with more than 2,000 ordinary citizens, some of whom had waited all night to secure their seats.
Shouts of "Rosa! Rosa! Rosa!" burst from the crowd as the mahogany casket was loaded onto a carriage drawn by two gleaming white horses. Then came the familiar sound of the gospel standard "We Shall Overcome" which mourners and well wishers had been singing all day.
Dossie Hunter, 74, arrived before dawn but refused to be daunted by the chilly nip in the air. She grew up in Selma, Alabama, and said she knew from experience the kind of hate and discrimination that Parks had struggled against.
"I never met her in person but I didn't want to miss this celebration. I'm from the south myself and I know what happened down there," said Hunter, smiling under a fluffy white hat.
"Most of us wouldn't be where we are now if it hadn't been for people like her."
Walter Perkins, a Chicago high school principal, said he felt blessed to have had the opportunity to attend several appearances by Parks in his city.
"I learned activism is very important because you never know how that one small act can evolve into a whole movement," Perkins said of the former seamstress's act of civil disobedience.
"Young people have lost our sense of history, we have to redouble our efforts to teach them."
Dyke Andrews, 42, stood all day in the cold for a glimpse of Parks.
"It's been exciting," he said, explaining that he enjoyed chatting with the other onlookers and talking about all the dignitaries -- like former president Bill Clinton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson -- they spotted going into the church.
James Fragomeni, 43, was one of several white people scattered through the predominantly African American crowd.
The college instructor said he wanted to pay his respects to a woman who helped white Americans understand the harsh reality of racism.
"She's symbolic of people wanting to have freedom," he said, adding that her struggle was "symbolic of what the United States stands for."
Parks was buried in a private ceremony at a Detroit cemetery alongside her late husband and mother.
She moved to Detroit in 1957 because of death threats she and her family received in the racially divided South.