As they finalized the historic arrangements, those helping to plan memorial services in the nation's capital today and tomorrow for civil rights matriarch Rosa Parks said they wanted to do right by a woman who had done so right by them.
"It's a tremendous honor for all of us to assist in her home-going celebration," said Donna Brazile, a longtime political and civil rights activist. "We want to make sure that we honor this courageous woman in the most dignified manner."
Brazile was among those gathered yesterday at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Washington to work out a variety of tributes to Parks, who helped ignite the modern civil rights movement in 1955 when she refused to give up her Alabama bus seat to a white man.
After a memorial service in Montgomery, Ala., the scene of her bus protest, the coffin carrying Parks will be flown to Washington this afternoon. It will be met by a succession of dignitaries, including President Bush, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), local mayors and crowds of mourners, both famous and ordinary, who want to pay their respects.
Parks, 92, died Monday, and her body will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. She is the first woman and one of only 30 Americans to be honored with a Rotunda viewing.
"This is the ultimate acknowledgment by the government of this woman who challenged the laws of her state to help end segregation," Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said yesterday. He called Parks an icon of the civil rights movement and said the outpouring of mourners would be reminiscent of when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Members of the public can begin filing past the coffin at 7 p.m. today. The viewing is scheduled to end at midnight, but organizers said that no one who is in line will be turned away. Viewing will resume from 7 to 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Those who plan to attend the Rotunda viewing must line up at the West Entrance to the Capitol and pass through the visitor screening center. Weapons, large bags and backpacks, coolers and other bulky items are prohibited at the Capitol, and photography is not allowed.
After the viewing tomorrow, the coffin will be taken to Metropolitan AME Church, on M Street NW near 15th Street, for a 1 p.m. memorial service, open to the public, presided over by Bishop Adam Jefferson Richardson. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) will serve as mistress of ceremonies, with scheduled tributes by Dorothy I. Height, president emeritus of the National Council of Negro Women, and Oprah Winfrey, elected officials and others.
Parks's coffin, accompanied by family members and many high-profile African Americans including Bruce S. Gordon, president of the NAACP, and actress Cicely Tyson, will arrive at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport shortly before 5 p.m. The hearse and members of the entourage, most of whom will board Metrobuses draped in black bunting, will then proceed along Baltimore-Washington Parkway to the Capitol for a brief service.
Officials said they would not close any streets during today's motorcade from the airport.
At the Capitol today, Bush, Senate and House leaders and Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will offer condolences, according to Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, who helped plan the tribute. Members of the D.C. National Guard will serve as pallbearers. The Morgan State University Choir will perform on the steps as the coffin is carried through the East Entrance; the Howard University Choir will sing tomorrow as the coffin is carried from the building.
Chaplains for the House and Senate will participate in the service at the Capitol, with a closing prayer by the Rev. Harold A. Carter, pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore.
Parks "was like a match set to a barn that was ready to burn. She came at a divine moment," Carter said yesterday. "She was the person that history chose to initiate a worldwide movement."
The Rev. Ronald E. Braxton, pastor of Metropolitan AME Church, noted yesterday that Parks was a stewardess and a "consecrated deaconess" in the denomination. His church, considered the home church in the region, holds about 2,500 people.
The church's boardroom was bustling yesterday with funeral planners, including Brazile, a one-time campaign manager for former vice president Al Gore; Minyon Moore, who served as a top adviser to former president Bill Clinton; and Ernest Green, one of nine black students who were protected by federal troops when they integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
"I think all of us feel a certain piece of history as well as wanting to have a tribute to Mrs. Parks and all that she stands for," Green said.
Yesterday, Parks's body lay in repose at St. Paul AME Church in Montgomery, where her act of defiance set off a bus boycott, led by King, and subsequent acts of civil disobedience. Earlier yesterday, the hearse carrying her body drove through the city, past her home and down Rosa Parks Avenue, as crowds lined the streets. A service will be held this morning at St. Paul before Parks's body is flown to Washington.
After tomorrow's church service in Washington, the body will be flown to Detroit, Parks's home, for a final funeral service and burial on Wednesday.
Conyers, for whom Parks worked for more than 20 years, said the request to honor her with a Rotunda viewing sailed through Congress, a tribute to her place in history.
"They sensed the enormity of the loss of Rosa Parks," he said. "This was reflected in the very cooperative way that leaders on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and the House responded so quickly."
Staff writer Fredrick Kunkle contributed to this report.