WASHINGTON – In death, Rosa Parks is joining a select few, including presidents and war heroes, accorded a public viewing in the Capitol Rotunda (search). It's the place where, six years ago, President Clinton and congressional leaders lauded the former seamstress for a simple act of defiance that changed the course of race relations.
On Sunday, Parks becomes the first woman to lie in honor in the vast circular room under the Capitol dome.
The House agreed by voice vote Friday that the body of Parks will lie in honor in the Rotunda on Sunday and Monday "so that the citizens of the United States may pay their last respects to this great American." The Senate approved the resolution Thursday night.
Congress has authorized this rite only 29 times since homage was paid to Henry Clay in 1852. Those honored include Abraham Lincoln, Gen. John Pershing, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and unknown soldiers from the world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The most recent was President Reagan (search) in June last year.
Parks is one of the few not to be a government official or a member of the military. In 1909 Pierre Charles L'Enfant (search), the architect who designed Washington, D.C., was commemorated 84 years after his death. In 1998 two Capitol Police officers slain in the line of duty lay in the ornate room 180 feet below the Capitol dome.
Parks, arrested in 1955 after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Ala., turned to her minister, the Rev. Martin Luther King, for aid. King in turn led a 381-day boycott of the city's bus system that helped initiate the modern civil rights movement.
"This brave, courageous spirit ignited a movement, not just in Montgomery, but a movement that spread like wildfire across the American South and the nation," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
"The Capitol serves as a beacon of American liberty, freedom and democracy, and Rosa Parks served as the mother of the America we grew to be," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search), D-Calif., said in a joint statement.
Parks, who for many years worked in the office of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in ceremonies in the Rotunda in June 1999.
Clinton said he was 9 years old when Parks refused to give up her seat. and he and his friends "couldn't figure out anything we could do since we couldn't even vote. So we began to sit in the back of the bus when we got on."
In 1987, Parks co-founded a nonprofit group, the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, to help young people in Detroit, her home since 1957.
According to Conyers' office, a memorial service will be held for Parks at the St. Paul AME Church in Montgomery on Sunday morning.
Her body will then be flown to Washington for viewing in the Capitol on Sunday evening and Monday. President Bush is scheduled to attend memorial services at the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington on Monday, Conyers' office said. The White House said Bush would also go to the Rotunda to pay his respects.
From Monday night until Wednesday morning, Parks will lie in repose at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
The Henry Ford Museum (search) in Dearborn, Mich., which has restored the bus on which she refused to give up her seat, will truck it to the Wright museum for display.
Aretha Franklin is to sing at the funeral Wednesday at Greater Grace Temple Church in Detroit, said an official with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute of Self Development.
Officials in Detroit and Montgomery, meanwhile, said the first seats of their buses would be reserved as a tribute to Parks' legacy until her funeral. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick put a black ribbon Thursday on the first passenger seat of one of about 200 buses where seats will be reserved.
"We cannot do enough to pay tribute to someone who has so positively impacted the lives of millions across the world," Kilpatrick said.