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Civil rights icon Parks laid to rest

2006-07-28 16:42

  Hundreds of people slowly filed past the body of US civil rights icon Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, just kilometers from the downtown street where she made history by refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. Most paying respects on Saturday paused for a moment to quietly look at Parks' body in an open casket at St Paul A.M.E. Church.

  Parks was arrested in 1955 after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery and turned to her minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King, for aid. King in turn led a 381-day black boycott of the city's bus system that helped initiate the US civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

  The strength that allowed Parks to defy Montgomery's race segregation laws nearly 50 years ago was still showing in her face, said actress Cicely Tyson, who played Parks' mother in the 2002 TV movie “The Rosa Parks Story.”

  “You can see that strength in that chin,” Tyson said. “It's the same strength that allowed her to just sit there on that bus. That same strength is in her face. Even in death, it is there.”

  The body of the 92-year-old Parks, who died last Monday at her home in Detroit, was brought to Montgomery on a chartered jet flown by Lou Freeman, the first black man to become a chief pilot for a US carrier, according to Southwest Airlines.

  “It makes you want to tear up and cry when you think of what she did and what she accomplished,” said Freeman, 53.

  “She told us all to stand up for our rights.”

  After a brief ceremony at the airport, a hearse drove her body through the streets of Montgomery. About a block and a half from St Paul, the casket was loaded into a horse drawn carriage and slowly made its way to the church.

  “Today we know this country has changed forever because this one great unselfish woman kept her seat to defend all her rights,” said Ben Gordon, the president of the civil rights organization National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

  Later yesterday and today, Parks is to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., becoming the first woman to do so.

  “If it wasn't for her I wouldn't be able to go to the school I go to or do the things that I do now,” said 13-year-old Boy Scout Micah Jones, who helped unload Parks' casket at the church.

  Montgomery mayor Bobby Bright told the Boy Scouts to learn from Parks' life.

  “She changed the world and she never fired a shot,” he said. “She never raised an arm in anger against anyone.”

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