Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday said her refusal to yield her seat in the segregated US South 50 years ago “ignited the most significant social movement in American history”.
Parks, who died on 24 October at age 92, was to be entombed in a cemetery in Detroit, the city she adopted as her home town not long after her 1955 arrest in Montgomery, Alabama.
Clinton recounted how he remembered Parks’s historic act of disobedience when he was a nine-year-old boy riding a segregated bus to school every day in Arkansas.
The next day, he said, he and two friends decided to pay tribute to Parks by sitting in the back of their bus.
“She did help to set us all free,” he said.
After her arrest, Parks was convicted of breaking the law and fined $10, along with $4 in court costs. That day, black residents began a boycott of the bus system that lasted for 381 days, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
Rosa Parks died on 24 October
Legal challenges led to a Supreme Court decision that forced Montgomery to desegregate its bus system and helped put an end to laws separating blacks and whites at public facilities across the South.
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said Parks was “powerful because she was improbable. … Her greatness lay in doing what everyone could but doesn’t”.
Bishop Charles Ellis, pastor of the Greater Grace Temple where Wednesday’s funeral was conducted, called the diminutive Parks “a gentle giant of a woman.” Her funeral, he said, was a “national victory celebration … because she humbled herself in life God has highly exalted her in eternity”.
The seat waiting for her in heaven, Ellis said, was reserved for her 50 years ago in Alabama.
The service was inside the 4000-seat church, a vast $33 million facility opened a few years ago by members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church congregation.
Some waited for hours in a predawn chill to get inside the church where they were joined by such figures as the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator John Kerry, the unsuccessful 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, Clinton’s wife Hillary, the Democratic senator from New York, and Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam.
Parks’s casket was taken to the
Notably absent from the massive delegation of politicians was any senior official from the White House. But there has been a nationwide outpouring of tributes to Parks.
The service, punctuated by Gospel hymns from two massive choirs that sent the congregation swaying, followed tributes to Parks across the country.
Her body was placed in the US Capitol Rotunda on Sunday, the first such honor ever accorded a woman. There was also a service in Alabama.