MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Rosa Parks (search) was remembered Sunday by hundreds of mourners for her defiant act on a city bus that inspired the civil rights movement and helped pave the way for other blacks including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search).
Cascades of roses surrounded Parks' casket in a chapel bearing her name at St. Paul A.M.E. Church, where she was once a member. A separate wing was opened for the overflow crowd and hundreds more mourned outside.
"I was here when Rosa Parks started and I just wanted to be here when she departed," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (search) with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr (search).
The body of the 92-year-old Parks, who died Monday at her home in Detroit, had been lying in honor at the church since Saturday, when hundreds filed slowly past her casket. Later Sunday, Parks will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, the first woman granted that honor.
President Bush issued a proclamation Sunday ordering the U.S. flag to be flown at half-staff over all public buildings on Wednesday, the day of Parks' funeral and burial in Detroit.
Rice said she and others who grew up in Alabama during the height of Parks' activism might not have realized her impact on their lives, "but I can honestly say that without Mrs. Parks, I probably would not be standing here today as secretary of state."
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (search) credited Parks with inspiring protests against social injustice around the world.
"I firmly believe God puts different people in different parts of history so great things can happen," Riley said. "I think Rosa Parks is one of those people."
Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Among those who supported her was King, who led the 381-day boycott of the city's bus system that helped initiate the modern civil rights movement.
"She was a gentle giant," his son, Martin Luther King III, said at the memorial.
"I think she had a defining stand in the civil rights movement," said Estella Jernigan, 20, a student at Troy University, before the service started.
Lowery and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (search) said the best way for blacks to carry on Parks' legacy would be to push Congress to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which they said would be in jeopardy when it comes up for review in 2007.
The Rev. Al Sharpton (search), who was a year old at the time of Parks' arrest, said when he arrived in Montgomery for the memorial, he thought about "how if she had just moved her seat, how history might of changed."
Sharpton, a New York City activist, said national leaders such as Rice and former Secretary of State Colin Powell would have never reached their posts without Parks' symbolic act. Rice would be struggling in a racially charged Birmingham and "Colin Powell would be sitting in a segregated Army barracks," Sharpton preached to the cheering audience.
Johnnie Carr, a 94-year-old veteran of the bus boycott, said Parks was her childhood friend, a woman who "gave every ounce of her devotion" to fighting racial inequality.
"We have accomplished a lot, we've come a long way, but believe me, we have a long way to go," Carr said.
Outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, several hundred people stood in line, awaiting the hearse, motorcade and symbolic bus that would bring her body to be honored in a fashion fit for presidents and military leaders. Some carried signs that read, "Thank you, Rosa Parks."
Fred Allen, 59, who grew up in segregated Halls, Tenn., brought his 20-year-old son to help him understand the civil rights era.
"He has no idea what it was like to grow up in the South, where you had to hold your head down," Allen said.
Robert Cunningham, 65, caught a flight from Atlanta with his wife, daughter and four grandchildren so they could pay their last respects. When they learned Friday night that Parks' body would lie in honor in the Capitol, Cunningham's wife said, "We have to go."
"She started the movement," Cunningham said of Parks, staring at the West facade of the Capitol. "She was the mother of the civil rights movement by simply saying, 'I'm tired of giving up my seat.'"