Rosa Parks, the unassuming seamstress whose small act of defiance on a city bus 50 years ago helped spark the modern civil rights movement, was memorialized today in Detroit in a lavish funeral service attended by thousands of dignitaries and ordinary people.
Beginning at dawn, people began lining up around the cavernous Greater Grace Temple, in Mrs. Park's adopted hometown, and hours later the line still wrapped around two blocks.
"The world knows of Rosa Parks because of a simple single act of dignity and courage that struck a lethal blow to the foundations of legal bigotry," said former President Bill Clinton, who spoke early in a nearly six-hour service that featured rousing words in tributes and songs.
When Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, "in a region where gentlemen are supposed to give up their seats for ladies," he said, "she was just taking the next step on her own road to freedom."
In doing so, Mr. Clinton said, she "ignited the most significant social movement in modern American history."
Mr. Clinton noted that Mrs. Parks was a petite woman, and said it brought to his mind Abraham Lincoln's remark upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
"So this is the little lady who started the great war," Mr. Clinton quoted Mr. Lincoln as saying.
"This time Rosa's war was fought by Martin Luther King's rules, civil disobedience, peaceful resistance," Mr. Clinton said. "But a war nonetheless for one America in which the law of the land means the same thing for everybody."
The service also featured remarks by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and singing by Aretha Franklin. In attendance were former President Jimmy Carter, Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of South Africa's post-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, and several senators and members of Congress.
As the crowd of 4,000 held hands and sang out the Lord's Prayer and "We Shall Overcome," family members filed past the casket before it was closed.
"Mother Parks, take your rest. You have certainly earned it," Bishop Charles Ellis III of Greater Grace Temple said.
Mrs. Parks died Oct. 24 at the age of 92. She was born in Tuskegee, Ala., and attended rural segregated schools until she was 11 years old. It was not until she was 21 that she earned a high school diploma.
By the time the 1940's and 50's rolled around, Mrs. Parks was one of the legions of African Americans simmering with frustration about Jim Crow segregation laws and who had been schooling themselves in ways that they could bring about change.
Mrs. Parks registered to vote at the age of 33, after two unsuccessful attempts in which she was told she had failed a literacy test. She was a member of the N.A.A.C.P. at a time when there had already been attempts to desegregate Montgomery's buses, where blacks had to give up their seats for whites and sit in the back.
For several years, Mrs. Parks had taken to entering the bus from the front, even though drivers insisted blacks enter through the back. On Dec. 1, 1955, on her way home from her job as a seamstress at a department store, she boarded her usual Cleveland Avenue bus to go home, through the front, angering a driver who had already tangled with her in the past about her practice.
When the whites-only section filled, the driver told her she had to vacate her seat. Mrs. Parks refused, and the police were called. She was arrested.
Her defiance led to a yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery led by the Rev. Dr. King, and a Supreme Court decision against that city's bus segregation that led to nationwide nonviolent protests against racial segregation.
"Her greatness lay in what everybody could do, but everybody doesn't," Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan said during the service.
"By your actions you have given us your final marching orders," Ms. Granholm said in her goodbye to Mrs. Parks. "We are enlisted in this war."
Earlier this week, Mrs. Park's body lay in honor at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, the first time such a tribute had been accorded to a woman, and an estimated 30,000 people filed past her coffin.
Her body was flown to Detroit after a memorial service on Tuesday at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington.
She is being entombed in a mausoleum at Detroit's Woodlawn Cemetery.