Mammoth funeral in Detroit honors gentle freedom fighter

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The funeral was the climax of an unprecedented outpouring of love and gratitude for a gentle freedom fighter who became one of the most recognizable icons in her adopted home, Detroit. “A lot of people have never seen anything like this, but it’s the proper way to pay tribute to a fallen hero,” said Pete Williams, 48, an insurance agent from Romulus. Not since an overflow crowd of 20,000 waited outside Henry Ford’s 1947 funeral has the city turned out in such numbers to thank and mourn a revered citizen. The crowds for Parks appeared to rival those reported in 1968 in Atlanta, when thousands lamented the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After a ceremonial procession, the casket was transferred to a modern hearse to complete the trip to Woodlawn. The final ceremony at a small chapel was private, a quiet end to a loud and public remembrance of Parks that took her body to three cities over five days, attracted more than 100,000 citizens and virtually emptied the halls of government. It took two planes to carry members of Congress to Greater Grace Temple where they joined more than 6,000 mourners for a raucous, proud and exhausting all-day service that featured at least 40 speakers. “Rosa Parks ignited the most significant social movement in modern American history,” said former President Bill Clinton. “She finished the work that spawned the Civil War.” Since Saturday, tens of thousands of mourners have waited for hours to view her body as it traveled from Montgomery, Ala., where Parks’ stand launched a 381-day boycott of city buses; to Washington D.C., where the Supreme Court struck down segregation; and to Detroit, where Parks moved in 1957 in part to escape harassment. Eusebia Aquino-Hughes, 50, stayed for the entire funeral service. The Detroit nurse, 50, had arrived at the church at 5 a.m. to be sure of obtaining a seat. “It was a service fit for a queen,” said Aquino-Hughes, who as a 10th-grader in 1972 had personally interviewed Parks at home for a book report. “I didn’t mind the length – I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t come. It was magnificent.” More honors may soon come for Parks, who died Oct. 24 at age 92 and already has become the first woman and second African-American to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda. U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised a statue may soon be built in Washington, D.C., to honor Parks. A movement is afoot to build a national monument for her in Detroit. The best tribute, several speakers said, would be to continue Parks’ unfinished struggle for racial equity. “The greatest tribute we could pay to this improbably warrior is to continue battling,” said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. “By your actions, you have given us your final marching orders,” Granholm concluded. “We are enlisted in this war. On behalf of the state of Michigan, ma’am, we are reporting for duty.” The funeral service, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., started before noon and ended after 6 p.m. Punctuated by multiple standing ovations, it freely mixed remembrances, Scripture, song and politics. Most attendees remained in the pews, gripped by Parks’ legend, for several hours. Parks’ longtime friend Elaine Steele and O’Neil Swanson, the funeral director, closed and locked the casket about 11:50 a.m., after Parks’ body was viewed by numerous relatives, friends and dignitaries such as Clinton, his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Aretha Franklin. The long service – which some attendees called “an old-fashioned homegoing” – didn’t seem to diminish the enthusiasm of the hundreds who gathered outside for the planned procession. Nor did it diminish the hope among many to renew Parks’ struggle toward racial equity. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! DETROIT – The long, historic and unprecedented goodbye is over for a giant of the 20th century. Capping a mammoth celebration the likes of which neither Detroit nor the nation has seen in decades, a horse-drawn hearse carried the body of Rosa Parks on the start of a nine-mile journey Wednesday to a mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery, where she was interred. About 1,000 mourners, some hoisting “Thank You, Mrs. Parks” signs, watched as the flag-draped casket emerged from Greater Grace Temple at 6:30 p.m. following a funeral that lasted more than six hours. Overhead, helicopters circled as a cortege of stretch limousines followed the old-fashioned glassed-in hearse. Its driver’s face was streaked with tears as she guided the team of white horses while spectators fell into step behind the procession and walked to the beat of African drummers escorting Parks’ body. last_img