DETROIT — A soaring rendition of "The Lord's Prayer" moved thousands of mourners at the funeral of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks on Wednesday, with a preacher bidding: "Mother Parks, take your rest."
Former President Clinton, his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and others paid their respects at Parks' open casket before the start of the funeral service that included the prayer in song by mezzo-soprano Brenda Jackson.
Those in the audience held hands and sang "We Shall Overcome" as family members filed past the casket before it was closed just before noon.
Bishop Charles Ellis III of Greater Grace Temple opened the service for 4,000 people packed in to say goodbye to the diminutive figure who sparked a civil rights revolution by refusing 50 years ago to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.
"Mother Parks, take your rest. You have certainly earned it," Ellis said.
Mourners waited in long lines in the chilly morning to honor Parks. Hours before the funeral began, the line to get one of the 2,000 available public seats at the church extended more than two blocks in Parks' adopted hometown.
"The world knows of Rosa Parks because of a single, simple act of dignity and courage that struck a lethal blow to the foundations of legal bigotry," said Clinton, who remembered riding segregated buses in his native Arkansas until Parks' stand allowed him and others to break through that barrier of racism. Clinton once presented Parks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm called Parks a "heroic warrior for equality."
"Her greatness lay in doing what everybody could do but doesn't," Granholm said. "She was unexpected. She was untitled. . . . (She was) an improbable warrior that was leading an unlikely army of waitresses and street sweepers and shopkeepers and auto mechanics."
Prior to the start of the service, black-suited ushers in white gloves escorted people to their seats. Former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was there, as were Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford and the two men vying in next week's election to be the mayor of Detroit: incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick and Freman Hendrix. Members of Congress, national civil rights leaders and those who had known Parks during her nearly half-century in Detroit filled the pews.
The casket was flanked by large bouquets of white flowers and a white cross. Flower arrangements lined the stage steps and scores of choir members sat on or near the stage.
As a white hearse carried Parks' body from the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, where viewing lasted until the pre-dawn hours, dozens of people holding pictures of Parks crowded around it. As it began moving, they shouted, "We love you."
Parks was 92 when she died Oct. 24 in Detroit. Nearly 50 years earlier, she was a 42-year-old tailor's assistant at a department store in Montgomery, Ala., when she was arrested and fined $10 plus $4 in court costs for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery city bus. Her action on Dec. 1, 1955, triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in December 1956 that segregated seats on city buses were unconstitutional, giving momentum to the battle against laws that separated the races in public accommodations and businesses throughout the South.
But Parks and her husband Raymond were exposed to harassment and death threats in Montgomery, where they also lost their jobs. They moved to Detroit with Rosa Parks' mother, Leona McCauley, in 1957.
Contributing: Tom Krisher, David N. Goodman and Bree Fowler