Woodward Malone, 49, was too young to see firsthand the beginning of the national movement sparked by Rosa Parks's decision in 1955 to stay in her seat at the front of a Montgomery, Ala., bus, and he wasn't planning to stand in long lines at the U.S. Capitol to pay respects.
But for five minutes last night, history came to Malone and his 4-year-old son, Dejuan Goldsmith, as they stood at Interstate 295 and Howard Road SE and watched Parks's motorcade exit the freeway and wend its way through Southeast Washington en route to the Capitol, where the civil rights icon's body would lie in honor in the Rotunda.
"You excited, Dejuan?" said Malone, taking pictures with a disposable camera of the motorcade, which included about 20 motorcycles with flashing lights and blaring sirens, three D.C. police cars, four U.S. Capitol Police cars, two Maryland State Police vehicles and a hearse.
Dejuan nodded, the sleeves on the oversized beige jacket he was wearing touching the ground.
"I'm glad to be a part of history," said Malone, who lives in Northeast Washington.
Malone and Dejuan were among 10 onlookers who had planted themselves in a lot outside P & P Auto Body and among numerous others along Howard Road and the route to the Capitol. The procession was more than 30 minutes late. But Parks's fans waited and watched for hours as day faded to twilight and twilight faded to night.
They reflected on how the action of an ordinary person 50 years ago has had huge repercussions for them today.
John Jackson, 61, was waiting in his black Saturn for about two hours. Jackson, who grew up in segregated North Carolina, said Parks changed his thinking about his place in society.
"I went to a segregated school and experienced riding on the back of the bus," said Jackson, who moved to the District in the early 1960s. "We thought everything was all right the way it was. What she did was [bring] enlightenment to me."
Now, he said, "a lot of black people are able to own their own businesses, and hotel and eating establishments have opened up to blacks."
Sheila Miles of Temple Hills, who was asked to come by her mother, recounted her own bus experience.
"When I was living in Boston in 1973, I boarded a bus and sat next to a white woman who was in her eighties and cursed me" and said, using a racial slur, that blacks " 'think they can do anything.' She hit me with her umbrella," said Miles, who is black.
"The bus driver escorted her from the bus," Miles said. "What [Parks] did had an effect on what the bus driver did."
Down the street, while the sun was still out, Erskine Moss, Lawon Lewis and John Harris were hanging out on the stoop of their apartment on Howard Road waiting for the procession.
"You have to respect a woman who has the inner strength to say, 'No, I'm not going to take this anymore,' " said Moss, 52. "Our kids today do not have that kind of wisdom or understanding, and they do not seek it. The only thing they're seeking is a good time."
Lewis, 45, lamented the changes -- drug dealing, shootings, irresponsible parents -- that have occurred in this Anacostia neighborhood, where she grew up.
Nevertheless, she said, neighbors in her building are close-knit. She said she was dismayed that the building had been sold to make way for development spurred by the new baseball stadium. She said she wished there were a modern-day Rosa Parks to help.
"What she did was to better us blacks," Lewis said. "Today, though, everybody's trying to outdo each other. Everybody is in it for themselves."