Rosa Louise McCauley Parks made her final trip home Sunday, to the state capital where her bold refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Cleveland Avenue bus sparked a year-long boycott of a segregationist transportation system and touched off the modern civil rights movement.
Parks, 92, was memorialized by family, friends, colleagues and well-wishers at her old church, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal, in the first formal ceremony since she died Monday of natural causes in Detroit, nearly 50 years after she took her stand on Dec. 1, 1955.
After the two-hour service, her body was flown to Washington, to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. From there she will be flown to Detroit to be memorialized and laid to rest on Tuesday. But Montgomery is the origin of Parks's legacy, and the atmosphere was festooned with local touches: A replica of the Cleveland Avenue bus -- white top, green stripe, gold bottom and smiley-face headlights -- sat in the church parking lot.
Hundreds of residents lined the narrow walkway to the church sanctuary to say goodbye, knowing there was no more room for them in the pews. Space was reserved for Parks's family, church leaders, an Air Force color guard and dignitaries such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and actress Cicely Tyson, who portrayed Parks's mother in a made-for-television movie.
Arthur Mae Davis, 63, stayed in line even though her back ached. She looked up at a building across the street and saw police sharpshooters, but she paid them no mind. She recalled drinking from the "colored" fountain, where the water never seemed to rise as high as the "white" fountain, she said. Davis, mother of Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), also recalled having to walk from the black east side of the city to the white west side, where, she said, "ninety percent of the time they called us that name."
Tony Pierce, 44, said he could not stay away. He grew up in Newark before coming south a year ago to help coach the Alabama State University football team. "Rosa Parks changed history," he said. "Coming from New Jersey, you don't feel the history like you do here. But when you're here, it's part of your life, it comes alive, you live it. It's like I'm living a history lesson."
Tiffany Davis, 30, stayed in line even when the 74-degree heat made her black mourning outfit slightly uncomfortable. "I wouldn't be here if it were not for her," said Davis, an engineer who "went to a white school, Auburn University," and lives on the west side of town, "where, once upon a time, I couldn't have lived there."
Rice, who grew up in Birmingham, echoed those words in her tribute to Parks, saying, "I can honestly say that without Mrs. Parks I would probably not be standing up here today as secretary of state." Rice said Parks and her memory matter. "She is revered around the world, and I can tell you that from my travels."
Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright followed, saying he would issue a proclamation honoring Parks. Bright, who is white, looked into the pews largely filled by black people and said he represents the government that persecuted Parks for doing what was right. He said it had been suggested that the city formally pardon Parks, who was arrested and jailed for breaking the law.
"You can't pardon someone who has not done anything wrong," Bright said, his voice rising. "Mrs. Rosa Parks did nothing wrong. As mayor of this city, I ask Mrs. Parks to pardon us, to pardon our city." For that, Bright received the ceremony's first standing ovation.
"Rosa Parks, please pardon the city of Montgomery and the people who lived here at the time," he said.
Sharpton wanted to remind his listeners that refusing to get up from her seat was no small gesture for Parks. "Rosa Parks, weighing less than 100 pounds, refused to leave her seat," he said. "There were big, muscular men who beat everybody up in the pool hall who moved to the back of the bus."
And then he started what became a refrain throughout the service, a chant. "Because she wouldn't move," Sharpton said, "we won't move."
Jackson said Parks did not stay seated because she was tired. He said she told him once that she had always resented that characterization. " 'I could've gone back,' " Jackson recalled her saying. She said she thought about Emmett Till, the black Chicago teenager who was lynched in Money, Miss., in August 1955, and would not move.
She did not free only black people from Jim Crow laws that day, Jackson said: "She freed the white bus driver. She freed the white police. She freed the white riders."
Lowery, president of the Peoples' Agenda in Atlanta, and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. co-founded, told a story about how humble Parks was. Years ago, when his daughter was wed, Parks wrote her a $25 check as a gift.
About 10 months later, Parks saw Lowery's daughter and stopped her. "Why haven't you cashed that check?" Lowery recalled Parks saying. "I can't balance my checkbook." Lowery's daughter stood up to Parks. "Mrs. Parks, I'm never going to cash that check."
Lowery had told the same story days earlier during a speech in Atlanta, and then he said his daughter said she would frame the check and put it on her wall. But Parks, not knowing her value in the hearts of admirers, kept admonishing his daughter to cash the check.
TV commentator Tavis Smiley had a similar story. He and Parks met at a book signing, and she told him to greet people before they got to her, because otherwise they would simply meet her and leave.
Parks was humble throughout her life. She was born to Leona and James McCauley in Tuskegee, Ala., and lived in Abbeville at the Georgia border before moving with her mother to Pine Level, Ala., just outside Montgomery.
She attended the Industrial School for Girls in Montgomery before going to a high school run by the Alabama State Teachers College, dropping out before graduation to care for her sick grandmother. After marrying Raymond Parks in 1932, she returned to school to earn her high school diploma. She later became a seamstress and joined the NAACP in its fight for civil rights.
Johnnie Carr, 94, didn't need a brochure to remember those details. Carr, president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, knew Parks when she was just Rosa.
"I knew Rosa Parks when we were in school, in the fifth, sixth and seventh grade," she said. "We had a very full life together." They worked together for civil rights, she said. "Rosa Parks gave her last, every ounce of devotion she had in order to do this," she said.
"When you leave this service, don't go back to your homes or wherever you came from and forget it," she said. "Put it into action. Put it into service."