'She Made It Clear That One Person Could Make a Difference'

Thousands came to see Rosa Parks's coffin in the Capitol Rotunda and to honor the woman whose legacy has resonated in their lives today.
Thousands came to see Rosa Parks's coffin in the Capitol Rotunda and to honor the woman whose legacy has resonated in their lives today. (By Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 31, 2005

They came hours before the coffin arrived, on a crisp, sun-dappled day unlike any this rain-soaked capital has seen in weeks, to pay their respects to the gentle woman with the bold spirit.

Most of the thousands of people waiting patiently in line at the U.S. Capitol to view the coffin of Rosa Parks yesterday had never met her, never seen her, never heard her speak. Yet her actions and legacy so resonated in their lives that they had come to know her, as if she had guided them all.

They came because she was so much like them, neither a general nor a president. And yet they came because she was so unlike them: a seamstress with the courage to challenge an unjust system when so many were afraid to, whose only weapon was a single word: "No."

The crowd was young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat. They traveled from as far as Chicago and as near as College Park. Some came alone, preferring to remember in solitude. Others brought their children so they would understand the sacrifices she made on their behalf.

They brought lawn chairs, water bottles, mattresses and sandwiches. They wore expensive suits and tight jeans, African robes and clerical collars. The cross-country team from the District's Payne Elementary and Eliot Junior High schools wore matching dark blue tracksuits. Some sang soft gospel songs. Others chatted with strangers, making new friends, and in their own ways carried on Parks's legacy.

"I had to make sure that I paid homage to a great lady who was a mother to me," said Paula Matavane, 56, a college professor from Capitol Heights who brought along her daughter Mashadi, 20.

"She birthed a new spirit and a new hope in my life."

* * *

"Sojo, the line is moving. Sojo!"

Chandra Travis, 45, called to her daughter from the rope line at twilight yesterday at the west lawn of the Capitol. But the 8-year-old Sojourner, whose chin-length dreadlocks are a miniature of her mother's, was too busy picking up acorns to listen.

They'd taken the train from New York after church and would head right back to Union Station after they'd paid their respects. Travis, who lives in Harlem and runs educational workshops, said she was her daughter's age when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died.

"There's very few legacy makers," she said. "I felt it was important to get this last glimpse."

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