Honoring Rosa Parks

In hushed reverence, Americans paid tribute Monday to Rosa Parks, with more than 30,000 filing silently by her casket in the Capitol Rotunda and a military honor guard saluting the woman whose defiant act on a city bus inspired the modern civil rights movement.

"I rejoice that my country recognizes that this woman changed the course of American history, that this woman became a cure for the cancer of segregation," said the Rev. Vernon Shannon, 68, pastor of John Wesley African-Methodist-Episcopal Zion in Washington, one of many who rose before dawn to see the casket.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, accompanied new Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito and his family to the Rotunda, where they paused in silent remembrance. Several senators joined the procession.

Elderly women carrying purses, young couples holding hands and small children in the arms of their parents reverently proceeded around the raised wooden casket. A Capitol Police spokeswoman, Sgt. Jessica Gissubel, said more than 30,000 passed through the Rotunda since Sunday evening, when the viewing began.

Many were overcome by emotion. Monica Grady, 47, of Greenbelt, Maryland, was moved to tears, she said, that Parks was "so brave at the time without really knowing the consequences" of her actions.

Bathed in a spotlight, Parks' casket stood in the center of a Rotunda that includes a bronze bust of 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.

In preparation for a memorial service, her casket was taken down the steps of the East Capitol by a military honor guard of pallbearers, followed by her family. A vintage Metropolitan bus dressed in black bunting followed the hearse, along with other city buses.

Parks, a former seamstress, became the first woman to lie in honor in the Rotunda, sharing the tribute bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and other national leaders. President Bush and congressional leaders gathered for a brief ceremony Sunday night, listening as members of Baltimore's Morgan State University choir sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Parks, who died last Monday at 92, was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, an incident that inspired King and helped touch off the civil rights movement.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, in whose Detroit congressional office Parks worked for years, said the ceremony and public viewing 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."

People began gathering outside the Capitol before noon Sunday and the line of well-wishers and mourners slowly pushed along into the early morning hours Monday.

Parks also was being remembered Monday at a memorial service at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington and was then to lie in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. The program at the Washington memorial service included tributes by Oprah Winfrey, NAACP chairman Julian Bond, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, and Conyers.

At the Capitol ceremony Sunday, Senate chaplain Barry Black said Parks' courage "ignited a movement that aroused our national conscience" and served as an example of the "power of fateful, small acts."

Bush, who presented a wreath but did not speak at the ceremony, issued a proclamation ordering the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff over all public buildings Wednesday, the day of Parks' funeral and burial in Detroit.

"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."

Among those paying respect was Ann Durr Lyon, 78, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, whose parents, Virginia and Clifford Durr, helped bail out Parks following her arrest. Lyon carried with her a typewritten tribute to the civil rights pioneer, noting her mother "is in heaven waiting for her friend. Mrs. Parks will light up God's heaven -- FREE AT LAST!"

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