Come nightfall today, the elderly and fearless Southern lady -- whose eyes had seen the glory of desegregation and freedom before she died, who had seemed to come out of nowhere and everywhere back in 1955 -- will begin a two-day rest in this city.
Rosa Parks is "going home," as the church folk have been saying. And the inference has been that her direction is heavenward.
She will lie tonight and part of tomorrow morning inside the Capitol Rotunda, the first woman accorded such an honor. At 1 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a memorial service at Metropolitan AME Church.
Then north to Detroit for burial. And "home."
In igniting the Montgomery bus boycott, Rosa Parks had a Bible, a few dollars, some comfortable walking shoes, some leaflets advertising the movement and a throng of carless foot soldiers. Now she will lie where men who have had armies and naval armadas at their disposal have lain before.
It seems fitting that she should be celebrated in the nation's capital, where many of the laws that held her back were written, then defeated in a slew of federal legislation won by shrewd civil rights lawyers -- many trained at Howard University's law school -- fighting in the legal trenches of American jurisprudence.
It will be a kind of two-day cinematic reminder of what America was like before Rosa Parks rose in Montgomery, Ala. -- and after.
For if she was the "mother of the Civil Rights movement," as she has been called, her "children" then were no less determined and stalwart: Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Meredith, Viola Liuzzo, John Lewis, Julian Bond, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Diane Nash, James Baldwin, Charlayne Hunter-Gault. And on and on, they swept across rivers of blood and into voting booths, Little Rock to Rodney King, and back to the wonder of a daring determination to sit on an unwelcoming bus.
"She changed my life," John Fenwick, 41, was saying yesterday morning while preparing to mop the floors at the Farragut North Metro station. "I don't ride in the back of the bus."
Of course, at his age he's never had to. He was talking about the pride, about having washed away "the back of" thinking. "Simple as that. I don't. So what she did was powerful. I rides in the front now."
Lunch sit-ins and Freedom Riders. Riots in the nation's capital. The fire had come.
"I lived through it!" Frank Love, 71, a barber at Gregg's Barbershop on Seventh Street NW, was recalling yesterday morning.
He was in the Air Force from 1953 to 1957. He would go home to South Carolina on leave. The pretty military uniform. The pride swelling in relatives. Then the bus ride. He'd go right to the back, he'd see a line where blacks had to step behind. "I hated it. I knew it was wrong that I had to do it. But the law was the law."
Sometimes he'd just get off the bus. "Sometimes I'd get home quicker hitchhiking. Yes, sir."
Then Love said this: "Come a long way, but got a long ways to go. Yes, sir."
Eva Robinson was waiting yesterday, and waiting, for a bus at Georgia Avenue and W Street. She hails from Madison but has called the District home for years. "What we're seeing today is because of Rosa Parks," she said, waving her arm in an arc as if to take in all of the nation's historic firsts in the arena of race. "Otherwise, we'd be way back -- where we used to be."
Her upbringing was so threadbare, she said, that bus fare was a luxury. She'd walk as often as she could afford to ride the bus.
Her bus came. She got on. She sat near the front.
Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis in 1968. The garbage men, the men wiping maggots off their uniforms and making minimum wage, needed him, begged him to come. That was what he and Rosa had been talking about: The lowest of the low should have the chance to ride up front. The garbage men had strung signs around their necks: "I Am a Man."
And then King was killed and Washington burned, but Rosa Parks was still a potent reflection of the movement.
Yesterday morning, Nathaniel Amos, 52, was leaning over into a gutter on Florida Avenue picking up garbage. He works for the Department of Public Works. Happy to have a job. "She stood up for blacks," he said of Parks. "If she never did, we'd still be sitting in the back of the bus. Or running alongside the bus."
Anger suddenly rose in his voice at her struggle. "You'd think any kind of gentleman would have stood and given his seat to the lady anyway. I count it as a blessing she refused to move from her seat."
"She deserves a Nobel Peace Prize," piped in Antoine Lowery, 28, a man, a sanitation worker, who was scooping refuse into a shovel.
So astonishing was Parks's success -- the Supreme Court would come to outlaw segregation on public transportation -- that many to this day believe it was divine.
"God told her to come on out from the back of the bus," believes Yvonne Perry, who is 72 and was waitressing yesterday morning at Torrie's Restaurant (formerly Wilson's) on the corner of Georgia Avenue and V Street NW. She was wearing a hat that had "JESUS" stenciled in silver lettering on the front. "God used her to open the door for our civil rights. Remember, He always starts small. Then He goes big. Jesus was humble. Whew. Lord Jesus. Don't get me started."
She seems unstoppable.
"Look at Jesus. Born in a manger. You ever hear of anybody born in a manger? And look at what He did. Look at what she did."
It took more than a year, but the buses finally rolled in Montgomery with black folk on them, sitting wherever they wished.
Other barriers cracked; other laws were broken.
So how does it all make Rosalind Grimes, a 34-year-old Metro driver and single mother of five, feel?
She had pulled her bus to a stop on the Howard University campus yesterday. "The majority of black people take public transportation," she said. "And there's a minority of white bus drivers. I figure they don't want to ride with us. I've heard all of the stuff about how we didn't have sense enough to drive a bus, that there was no way we'd be smart enough to drive a bus."
She's been driving a little more than three years. When she got the job, she was delighted because she had been out of work a whole year. "I might have been a Rosa Parks," she allowed. "I don't think I could have been submissive in those days. I don't think I would have been one of those who went by the law, the rules."
She went on: "I don't think the young people know what it took to get these bus jobs. These are public-service jobs." She said the civil rights movement has stalled. "I certainly don't feel we have equality with whites. I don't think we ever will. Whites hold the power. Least here on this earth. For now. But I have a roof over my head. We making it. I can thank Rosa Parks and others for that."
It seems ever thus in the chronicle of race in America -- it is sunny some days, cloudy others. "You have to just know that there is something else better for you if you're black other than what's here on earth," Grimes said. "So you just wait. Wait on the Lord."
It seemed the most modest of movements. A ride on a bus. Until it exploded. Until years rolled on and the blood of murder victims led to new investigations and the name Rose Parks got entered into the history books.
One day, 10 years ago, Rosa Parks had come through Union Station. Michael Winbush, now 50, was working as a baggage handler then, as he still does.
"I see many, many people come through this station," he was recalling yesterday. "I don't ask for many autographs. But I had to get hers."
Rosa Parks happily signed her name. Then Winbush helped her and her assistant with their luggage. He figured he'd find her a quiet place on the train, someplace where she could relax. From the center of an aisle, he spotted open seats toward the back of a car. He led the way. Before he hoisted the bags of Rosa Parks over his head, she nudged him on the elbow. "She said, 'If you don't mind, I'd prefer to sit someplace near the front.' I wasn't thinking. I just wasn't thinking."
By early afternoon yesterday the sun had begun laying across the Capitol building. The Capitol was closed to the public as preparations were being made for the Parks viewing.
"We were just talking about her," Bill White, 57, said of Rosa Parks while standing on the grounds, looking down the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial. "She means everything to me."
His friend, Barbara Hicks, 60, nodded. "We sure were."
"Courageous. That's the word for her," White said. "I don't think people can truly imagine the terror she went through."
Then the words seemed to catch in his throat. He seemed to be choking up. He paused. He then said: "We'll be here tomorrow."
And then he put his hands in his coat pockets and walked away.