Mourners Pay Tribute to Rosa Parks

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Thousand of mourners flock to Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to a civil rights pioneer. Rosa Parks, the seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man in Alabama in the 1950s, died last week. Over the weekend, she became the first woman to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now Judge Samuel Alito is already on Capitol Hill. He's meeting with lawmakers and also one of his first actions today was to pay his respects to the late civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks, who is lying in honor at the US Capitol. And so we'll turn now to the last honor given to her over the weekend.

People sang and cried as Rosa Parks' body moved through Washington yesterday. It arrived at the Capitol in a procession that included a bus from the 1950s. It was similar to the one that Rosa Parks boarded 50 years ago in Montgomery, Alabama. She refused to ride in back as required under segregation laws, and her defiance became a landmark in the modern civil rights movement.

The president and first lady were among thousands of people who visited. Many people waited in the cold for a chance to see the coffin including Joan Williams.

Ms. JOAN WILLIAMS: This is history. This is history. This is the first woman to be in the Rotunda. So, yeah, it was worth it. It was worth the cold and chills and things. This was worth it.

Ms. ELIZABETH SALVATORE ERNEST(ph): My name is Elizabeth Salvatore Ernest and these are my four girls, Ashley(ph), Aubrey(ph), Arden(ph) and Brook(ph).

INSKEEP: Salvatore Ernest grew up just outside of New Orleans and attended a school that stayed segregated longer than most. She says that experience makes her want her kids to understand how it important Rosa Parks was.

Ms. ERNEST: The best story for them is to know that Rosa Parks was not a hero, she was not a president, she was not an ambassador. She was an everyday person who just had a little spark that ignited a huge flame.

INSKEEP: Sam Washington guessed that he stood in line for five or six hours, which gave him time to think about the day that he first heard Rosa Parks' name in 1955.

Mr. SAM WASHINGTON: I guess I felt good that somebody finally decided to say, `Enough.' She just got fed up. She just said, `This was enough.' And I had no idea it was going to expand to what it expanded to, but I was very pleased with knowing that somebody decided they had had enough.

INSKEEP: Elsewhere in line stood a man named Joseph Plummer(ph).

Mr. JOSEPH PLUMMER: I was from Virginia and we was still on the back of the bus. So it meant a lot that somebody stood up for us by being black myself and I think all of us should be here 'cause she stood up. She's 92 and she fought until she died.

INSKEEP: Joseph Plummer was one of many people who saw Rosa Parks' body yesterday in the Capitol Rotunda here in Washington.

On Wednesday, Parks will be buried in her home of Detroit. Rosa Parks tells her own story through archival interviews at npr.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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