Pamela Gray hadn't been born when Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, and inadvertently shook up the country.
But Gray, 43, like others born after the civil rights matriarch's famous act of defiance on that bus, said she feels a connection to Parks -- a debt of gratitude.
For that reason, Gray and husband Alvin, rearranged their schedules Oct. 30 to honor the woman she holds in such high esteem.
The Grays and their six children -- Nicole, 17, Marcus, 16, Jasmine, 13, India, 12, Annette, 11, and Cecilia, 4 -- went to the 11 a.m. service at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden as usual that Sunday. Then the couple took the children to the "Disney on Ice" show in Baltimore. After the show, the Lanham family traveled to the District, where they waited in line outside the Capitol for more than six hours for a chance to say goodbye and thank you to Parks.
The Grays finally got into the Capitol Rotunda at 3:15 that Monday morning and saw for themselves the closed coffin that held Parks's body. It was a highly polished cherry box with eight wooden handles. There were no flowers, nor was there a flag. Just a simple, elegant coffin.
The Grays were tired but elated to have been among the tens of thousands who took the time to pay their respects to a woman whose single act of courage changed the course of the United States. A seamstress who, tired from a long day's work, refused to give her seat in the front of a bus to a white man that day a half-century ago. This woman whose single act began the dismantling of segregationist laws and attitudes that separated blacks from whites in schools, restaurants, workplaces, parks and public transportation.
"I told the kids that we were going to be there because the last thing that I wanted was for them to give Rosa Parks that type of honor and have nobody show up," said Gray, who home-schools her children. "I wanted them to go because this generation doesn't understand that the privileges we have now are because Rosa Parks stood up against injustice."
The Grays were among a number of Prince Georgians who turned out at the Capitol for the public viewing and memorial to honor Parks.
Some went because they felt compelled to be closer to the historic figure who is largely credited with giving birth to the civil rights movement. Others stood in the orderly long line because they wanted their children to witness the event.
"Rosa Parks is the reason why I can stand here today as the mayor of Bladensburg," said Walter L. James Jr., 30.
Former Maryland state Del. Darren M. Swain of Prince George's County was also there. He used the event to bring attention to what he said society is missing. "We need to focus back on the family," he said in an interview.
Indeed, many who went to view Parks's casket -- and even some who did not -- said they intended to honor her by continuing the work she started.
James, for example, said he will start by moving ahead on an idea he has long had: to set up programs in which senior citizens share the stories of their lives with young students.
The day after the viewing and memorial, Prince George's County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville) proposed naming a new school planned for his district after Parks. The gesture seemed fitting, he said, given the county's black majority and the defunct court order that once forced Prince George's schools to integrate.
"It just seemed so appropriate," said Campos, the first Hispanic elected to the County Council. "She is literally responsible for us being at this level in this county."
Parks, who died Oct. 24 at age 92, made history after her death as she did in her life.
After a swift vote by Congress, Parks became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda and only the second black person to do so. The first to lie in the Rotunda was Capitol Police Officer Jacob J. Chestnut, who along with his colleague Detective John M. Gibson were fatally shot defending the Capitol in July 1998.
The viewing of Parks's coffin was preceded by a motorcade with a hearse and three Metro buses draped in black and carrying family members and friends. Leading the procession was a vintage Metro bus reminiscent of the one Rosa rode on the day she held onto her seat. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush were among the dignitaries who joined the mourners at the viewing.
Afterward, at the Metropolitan AME Church in downtown Washington, the Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of the Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, delivered the opening prayer at a memorial service honoring Parks.
"Rosa Parks is not dead. Her life and legacy are still alive," said Browning, who put Parks in the same category of black leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Ida B. Wells W.E.B. DuBois and Nat Turner.
Following the memorial service, Parks's body was flown to Detroit, her adopted home town, where the eulogies continued. She had also been remembered in a ceremony in Montgomery.
Joe Madison, a radio host on Lanham-based 1450 WOL-AM who said he once marched with Parks in Michigan, devoted part of his morning shows last week to the civil rights leader. He challenged blacks to rededicate themselves to the civil rights movement.
"It is time now not to assemble on the Mall, but to walk the halls of Congress," Madison said. "It is time for action. We are facing budget cuts in Congress. They are cutting housing programs, food stamps, foster care," he said in an interview.
In honor of Parks, Pamela Gray, too, said she will do her part. She said she is committed to being a better role model and will encourage her children to do the same.
As she spoke about Parks, Gray said her thoughts turned to what it must have been like to live in the days of segregation.
"Rosa Parks was a woman of dignity," Gray said. "Even though she was a seamstress and performed domestic duties, she knew that her work was just as important as [that of] any white woman."
Rosa Parks was the first woman, and second black person, to lie in state in the Capitol. The memorial and subsequent service at Metropolitan AME Church were the second part of a three-city farewell.Members of the D.C. National Guard carry Parks's coffin from the hearse, accompanied by three Metro buses, to the Capitol. As many as 50,000 people came to the Capitol Rotunda on Oct. 30 and 31 to pay their respects to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on Dec. 1, 1955.