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Senator, stars pay tribute to Parks' act

Racism remains an evil in world today, speakers say

"I'm here to say a final thank you, Sister Rosa, for using your life to serve, serve us all," Oprah Winfrey said in a service Monday.
"I'm here to say a final thank you, Sister Rosa, for using your life to serve, serve us all," Oprah Winfrey said in a service Monday.
Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A tribute for Rosa Parks at the historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church on Monday rumbled like a civil rights revival meeting.

Many of the speakers, which included talk show host Oprah Winfrey and actress Cicely Tyson, praised Parks' legacy and urged the audience to finish Parks' call to bring equal rights to all Americans because sexism and racism still exists.

"You're a child of God, you can make a difference," said Dorothy Height, 93, president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women and a civil rights legend herself.

Those in the church responded with frequent standing ovations and shouts of "Amen" and "Hallelujah."

"We know the nation still has much work to do to live up to its ideals of equality and justice for all," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

As soloists and the choir sang heart-tugging gospel songs including "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," A.J. Verdelle, 45, a writer who took the day off work to attend, rose and clapped her hands, a look of rapture sometimes lighting her face.

"Because of her the shift in what we are able to do and be and actually walk toward in our lives is immeasurable," Verdelle said.

Parks, 92, died Oct. 24 in Detroit, where she lived for 48 years.

Parks ignited the modern civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955.

Her peaceful act of civil disobedience prompted blacks and white supporters to launch a 381-day bus boycott. The boycott in turn spurred an historic mass movement that gave American blacks equal rights after centuries of slavery and segregation.

Congress honored Parks by putting her cherry-wood coffin in the Capitol Rotunda Sunday evening through Monday morning, making her the first woman to receive a tribute usually reserved for presidents. President Bush and his wife, Laura, placed a wreath before the coffin on Sunday.

Thousands waited in a line blocks long outside the Capitol for the chance to file past her coffin before it was taken to Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church for the memorial.

Another crowd was gathered on the street outside the church, waiting for the hearse to arrive.

Because not everyone could fit in the church, loudspeakers were put outside so all could hear the tributes being paid.

"I'm here to say a final thank you, Sister Rosa, for using your life to serve, serve us all," Winfrey said.

Johnnie Carr, 94, who grew up with Parks and is a veteran of the bus boycott, told those gathered that Parks was such a quiet, unassuming good girl she could not believe the Montgomery seamstress got arrested for not giving up her seat.

"You're kidding," a still-feisty Carr remembers saying when she got the telephone call. The audience chuckled.

Parks' body was flown to Detroit late Monday. Her final funeral will be held Wednesday at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.


E-mail: gwright@gns.gannett.com.